Author Archives: kaitlynakelley

An Advanced Drama student shares her experience in the class

By Kaitlyn Kelley 

Staff Writer 

“One thing I really like is there is no censorship in that class. He lets us talk about

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Tahoma junior Kaitlyn Tran

anything in that class that would be uncomfortable in regular school,” Tahoma junior Kaitlyn Tran said about the Advanced Drama Expeditions.  

Tran has been in the Advanced Drama class since freshman year, and she was interested in acting as early as middle school. “Ever since I started acting, I’ve loved it so much and I join whenever I can,” Tran said. 

I like that I get to play a new person because that character is something I’ve never been,” Tran said, adding that “it’s fun to see how that character interprets things.” 

Tran explained that when she came to Summit Tahoma and learned about the Expeditions courses she learned that drama was offered and signed up for the intro class, “But I guess they put me in advanced – although that was really scary, I was like, okay I’ll deal with it, and I’ve been doing it since freshman year, so three years now.”  

Ron Johnson, the Advanced Drama teacher who started the Drama program at Summit, inspires many young people to follow their passion in acting, including Tran.

Mr. Jay (on the right) leads his Drama students through a vocal warmup.

Mr. Jay would also have classes outside of school, and I would go to those too,” Tran said. “I join whenever I can.” 

The Tahoma Advanced Drama class puts on an original play at the end of every school year; Tran explained that the first two rounds is like the audition process, so Mr. Jay sees how well the students do at interpreting characters and then casts students into the characters from the final play.

Tran said that in the first round of Expeditions, “We chose one [a monologue] and memorize it and use our skills to figure out how we interpret the character and perform that in front of the whole class.” 

Tran has been in two Summit Tahoma plays so far. In freshman year she played the main role in a play about Japanese interment camps, and in sophomore year she had two parts in a play about breakups. She is unsure about her role this year as they are still working on the play.

Tran also shared some of the things she struggles with in acting: “because I’ve learned so


Drama students warm up with an acting game.

much and there’s so many new students, it’s kind of hard to challenge myself because I’m always teaching other people, ” Tran said. “But I’m trying to challenge myself more that’s the challenge.”

She shared that when she first started acting her main challenge was expressing herself: “Back then it was hard for me to open up, and I was really scared to do it, but now I’m fine.”

Acting, even with its ups and downs, is something Tran said she wants to do in the future: “Yes, very much so. There are times where I’m like: Do I really want to do this? This is so hard; this is so challenging and could be a really unstable career, but it’s something I can’t imagine myself not doing.”  

Tran added, “I hope to get more opportunities outside of school and make myself more independent.

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Students listen to Mr. Jay as he talks about the importance of warmups.

She explained that being independent is very important in acting because you really have to put yourself out there and audition for roles. 

Tran sees acting as an important part of her future. She went on to say, “I just want to be able to go to college and audition [on] the side.” 

When talking about who inspires her in acting, Tran said, “Mr. Jay and Ms. Estrella are my acting mentors.” She went on to talk about people in Hollywood, “A person that really inspires me in Hollywood is Constance Wu,” Tran said.


Asian-American actress Constance Wu PHOTO CREDIT: Popsugar)

Constance Wu is an Asian-American actress who stars in ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat” and many other shows. “Hearing her story and her talk about Asian-Americans and social media really inspires me,” Tran said. 

When asked about why acting is so popular and influential, Tran said, “It’s really influential because it’s so relatable.” 

Tran said she believes movies that talk about issues that have to do with the LGBTQ community or with race can make it so “others want to learn more. So that’s why they are on TV.”



Student and teachers offer opinions on the LGBTQ community at Tahoma

By Kaitlyn Kelley

Staff Writer

Words are a very powerful tool, especially in a school setting where derogatory words can hurt the most. As kids struggle with self-confidence issues already, we really should reconsider our choice of language toward others. Words and phrases like “that’s gay” shouldn’t be allowed at any school, as they are derogatory and don’t make people in the LGBTQ community feel safe and respected. No matter what their background is, everyone should feel safe at school.

When asked, teachers and students at Summit Public School: Tahoma had strong opinions about the treatment of LGBTQ students at school. A snapshot of their thoughts and answers are included below.  

  1. What are your thoughts on how society treats the LGBTQ community?
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Tahoma junior Oniris Ramos

Tahoma junior Oniris Ramos and co-leader of the LGBTQ Club said, “The LGBTQ community is very sexualized in society; a lot of media portrays us as very sexually hyperactive people – very like fashionable or butch; lesbians don’t like to wear skirts or gay men can help women fashion problems.”

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Tahoma history teacher Eileen Kim


Tahoma history teacher Eileen Kim responded, “Well, I think there are two different societies: I think the societies on the coasts, the East Coast and the West Coast, are a lot more liberal, understanding and accepting. To be LGBTQ is viewed as more normal, not weird or wrong. But I definitely think there are parts of the country in those societies where it’s a lot different.”


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Tahoma science teacher Alexis Lorenz

Tahoma science teacher Alexis Lorenz had this to say: “I think it’s moving forward, but it’s most definitely not as inclusive as it should be. Currently, [gay] marriage is still frowned upon, and that’s ridiculous; it’s not like current marriage systems are working anyway, with an over 50 percent divorce rate in heterosexual couples. Society is also starting to realize the fluidity of gender; it’s not as binary as we believed it to be. I believe that that’s something that’s going to be difficult moving forward for people who struggle to understand that and be tolerant to that.”

2. Do you feel this school is accepting to the LGBTQ community? Why or why not?

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Tahoma Teacher Resident Kevin Franey

Tahoma Teacher Resident Kevin Franey replied, “I do – I think Tahoma, compared to our larger society, is a very accepting place of people of all backgrounds. We’ve definitely found a pretty good space here for the LGBTQ community. But again, that’s still not to say it’s perfect.”

Ms. Lorenz said, “As teachers, we do our very best to be as inclusive and understand[ing] as possible, but when you work with human beings people make mistakes. I know as a faculty we discuss it often to make sure we are being as understanding and helpful as we can be while keeping all our students thoughts, concerns and feelings in mind.”

3. Have you ever heard someone use discriminatory words to another student? If so what did they say and how did you feel?

Mr. Franey said, “I definitely have heard students use slurs in reference to other students; I’ve heard students call other students ‘gay’ – I’ve heard the word ‘fag’ before. I don’t think I’ve ever heard, like the student involved in this identify as LGBTQ, so I’ve never seen an instance where it was specifically targeted to a student for that reason – but it doesn’t make it any more OK. I know it definitely has hurt students that it was targeted at, and I was not pleased to hear it. I’ll pull aside the student and have a conversation about why it’s an inappropriate word to use at least in that context in that way and make a plan for how we can move forward without using slurs like that.”

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Tahoma freshman Vainey Gonzaga

Tahoma freshman Vainey Gonzaga answered, “At my old school the guys would usually tell each other ‘you’re hella gay dude’ or ‘that’s hecka gay’ to each other; I didn’t like it, but I wouldn’t say anything because they were both kidding around, so they both didn’t care – but, I mean, if I was a part of that community I wouldn’t like it if they said it that much because it’s like shaming them, even though the term ‘gay’ shouldn’t be used with a negative connotation.”

Ramos said, “No, not really – I haven’t heard anything; I’ve heard things you would normally hear at a normal high school like ‘that’s so gay’ and things like that, but nothing hateful, not at this school – a lot of students have friends that are LGBTQ; they wouldn’t say that because they are friends with those people.”

4. In your opinion is calling something “gay” disrespectful or should it not be taken seriously?

Ramos said, “I mean the way people use it, to me, it’s distrustful because it’s used as an insult; if you don’t like something you say ‘that’s gay’ with a bad connotation and it’s not; it should not be used with a bad connotation because being gay is not a bad thing.”

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Tahoma English teacher Merica McNeil

Tahoma English teacher Merica McNeil said, “I think it’s definitely disrespectful, and people often do it thinking they’re joking, but it’s just perpetuating a negative stereotype by using ‘gay’ as a way to insult someone. I think it’s not appropriate and needs to be dealt with, and I try my best to deal with it.”

5. Do you think there should be action taken against these students who use derogatory terms? If so, what do you think should be done? If no, why?

Dr. McNeil said, “I think that the main thing is creating a respectful, safe and supportive environment, and I want everyone to feel that way in school and outside, but I can only control in my classroom. I don’t think it’s acceptable; and, if I hear that, I say something about it. I think it’s important to have students reflect on it; I might pull a student aside and talk to them to ask them questions to reflect on it because that can help the learn and ask questions like ‘How do you think that makes them feel?’ and ‘Is that respectful?’ so they can learn that that’s not okay.”

Ganzaga said, “I definitely do agree that there should be consequences to those who are saying those words or phrases; they should get a warning first time, but if they’re really offending someone it should be taken to the office. The first time should be a warning because maybe they didn’t mean it in that way, but if it becomes a problem it should lead to parent and principal meeting or suspension. If a student is feeling very emotionally offended by the terms that the other student is saying, then maybe other matters should be taken if they’re intentionally trying to hurt someone.”  

6. Why do you think students use “gay” as an insult or negative descriptive term?  Do you think it’s out of ignorance or homophobia?

Ms. Kim said, “Again that depends – as an adult we would have to be a little bit of digging, and that begins with having that conversation. In my existence, it’s important to approach the person in question not from a place of judgement because then they’ll get really defensive and their walls will come up and they won’t be able to listen.”

Ms. Lorenz said, “For most students it’s a little bit of both. I would say they don’t understand the power of their language. Just like you see with the language directed toward women, the language directed towards the LGBTQ community has a very similar effect as it affects how they feel about themselves, and the people who do use it towards women and LGBT community have a bit of a phobia or fear involved in using that language and the best thing is to have a conversation with them.”    

7. If it’s out of ignorance, how should these students be informed that it’s offensive? If you think it’s homophobia, how can we educate them that it’s not acceptable?

Dr. McNeil said, “Addressing it and talking about it helps; however, it affects everyone in the class, and so I think we could bring it up in class. That’s a really good question – it’s something I’ve been thinking about actually; like, for example, using gender pronouns and how to deal with that. I attended at class when I was in Arizona about how to have some of these discussions, and it’s really complicated; you can talk to the student or the class, and it’s something as a teacher I want to talk with other teachers about so we can address every class about it so everyone feels safe, supported and respected.”

Ramos said, “If it’s ignorance, they should just be sat down and talked to. If it’s homophobia, same thing – but with homophobia it stems from things like religion, so there’s not much we can really change with homophobia; we just gotta help them understand.”  

8. Do you think this school is more accepting of the LGBTQ community than others in the area? Why or why not?

Ramos said, “Yes, I do feel like they’re more accepting. When I decided to come to Tahoma (because it was my choice I could either go to Oak Grove or here I chose to go here) because there was no P.E. but I didn’t know there was such a large LGBT community when I got here, I felt very welcomed. I felt like I was able to come out to people a lot easier than I was before at a nonpublic school or non-charter or even non-Summit school. Some schools they say they accept it, but you can tell there’s a lot of negative connotation around it, so yeah.”  

Ms. Kim said, “I don’t know if I can answer that question; I don’t really know what other schools might be like. I have a couple of friends that work at other schools, but those schools are so big I think it’s hard to attribute a judgement to what it’s like at such a big school. So I don’t feel comfortable being able to answer that question.”

9. Have you ever used “gay” negatively in the past, and when did you learn the impact that it has?

Gonzaga said, “I always heard those kids, like I said before, say ‘that’s so gay’ – but we had a teacher that heard them and got really mad and said ‘stop it; be quiet; don’t use that term,’ and they were so confused; and she said that she had said that when she was younger in high school; and everyone went silent; and she explained that she had a good friend that was gay and committed suicide; and this one time they made comments saying ‘that’s so gay,’ and he told them to stop and came out to them; and then a month later he committed suicide.”

Ms. Kim said, “Yeah, I think I did when I was in high school, which was a long time ago -from 1999- 2003 – so early 2000s being gay started being more of an issue, more visible, but people we’re still unsure. I had a friend that I played basketball with and was really good friends with – she came out as gay and immediately people in the school were either on her side and other people in the school were either really hateful or would say ‘you need to come to my church for this conversion therapy.’ Honestly, knowing these people, they were coming from a good place but very misinformed, and I think I said something was gay out of habit in her presence, and I immediately said “I’m so sorry” and ever since then I haven’t said it.”

10. Has society impacted the way we think of these terms?

Ms. Kim said, “I can still remember when Ellen had her show and came out on her show and that was a big deal, and I can still remember it started popping up a lot in T.V. and movies, and it was super controversial back then. Think that was when society started to thaw a little bit on the idea and people’s minds started to be more open.”  

Ramos said, “Society had impacted the way we think of those terms; some people think gay is very negative; some people don’t even want to classify themselves as gay because they’re afraid they get hurt because a lot of people who identify as get hurt or murdered or things like that, and we have to educate people that it’s not a horrible thing to be gay.”

With that final quote from Ramos, if you are wondering, the LGBTQ Club meets every Tuesday at lunch in PF10. The club is open to any and everyone! You don’t have to identify as gay, you just have to be supportive. If talking about these issues is something you’re interested in, don’t hesitate to show up!


Students and teachers share how they have bonded with their mentor group

By Lilith Flowers and Kaitlyn Kelley  

Staff Writers 

“This year, recently, I struggled a lot because my baby cousin passed away, so I was able to open up to her, and she was, like, there to comfort me,” Mikala Zavala said. “And same thing with my fellow mentees.”


Tahoma junior Mikala Zavala

Zavala, a junior at Summit Tahoma, shared her relationship with her mentor, Audrey Hart, and how it has grown since freshman year. “When I was a freshman, I struggled a lot with like – I’m a very shy person – but, like, once you know me, then I start talking a lot,” Zavala said. “So she helped me come out of my shell.”

“My relationship with Ms. Hart has changed a lot,” Zavala said. “Freshman year I wouldn’t tell her personal stuff that was going on in my life, and, as time went on, she started gaining my trust, so I opened up about more personal stuff.”

“One thing that I think works a lot is that they don’t put you with people you know,” Zavala said. She talked about how she has a twin sister, and she is glad they are in different mentor groups. “I feel like I would have just stuck with her, and I wouldn’t have come out of my shell and I wouldn’t have interacted with my other mentor peers.”


Tahoma Special Ed teacher and mentor Audrey Hart

This is just one example of how mentor relationships can change over the years and one of the reasons why the mentor system works well. The mentor system allows students to form a close bond with a teacher and other classmates. 

“They learn from each other as well; they learned to be more empathetic and more supportive, and they are very sweet to one another,” Tahoma freshman math teacher and mentor Thao Nguyen said. 


Tahoma math teacher and mentor Thao Nguyen

At the beginning of freshman year, students are assigned to a teacher who will be their mentor for all four years at Summit Tahoma. There are around 20 students per mentor group and either one or two mentor teachers.

Every day for the last 10 minutes, the students will meet with their mentor and have an opportunity to ask questions and get help. On Fridays, the mentor groups spend all day together doing PLT (personalized learning time). PLT is very similar to a study hall where students get to work on their own on whatever they need to do. Mentor groups also have community time where students get to bond and do activities like circle where people can go around and talk about how they are doing.  

Over these four years, the teacher gets to watch the students grow both academically and personally. Students and teachers from different grades shared their thoughts on the growth of those relationships. 

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Ms. Hart’s mentor wall with pictures of all her mentees

When asked for their thoughts on the mentor group system, it was all positive reviews, along with some feedback. Sara Black, a senior at Summit Tahoma, said, “I really like the mentor group system. It was a great way for me to transition into my freshman year.” She mentioned how she came here not knowing anyone and having a mentor group helped her make friends. She also had to switch mentors and talked about how it was a hard transition for the students: “Teacher retention is already a problem with Summit, and it interferes with the mentor group experience.”

Part of the mentor group system is weekly one-on-one check-ins with the mentor teacher to keep students on-track and see how they are doing, but that doesn’t always work as planned. “Another problem is weekly check-ins,” Black said. “There are some people that get it weekly and some who meet with their mentor once every several months if they’re lucky.” She said she understands that some students need check-ins more than others, but “it makes the rest of us seem like less of a priority.”


Tahoma physics teacher and mentor Elizabeth Rodriguez

Special Ed teacher and mentor Audrey Hart said, “I love the mentor group system; that’s definitely why I’ve stayed at Summit.” Ms. Hart also agreed that one issue is when teachers leave and that we should work on how to make it better for students when that happens. “I think that it’s a great way to build connections – kind of, a type of support group in a school,” Tahoma physics teacher and mentor Elizabeth Rodriguez said. 

“Some students you’re just in a class with them and you’re their friend, but in a mentor group you see them every Friday, you see them every day, and you just grow a bond with them and it’s just amazing,” Arnold Pravong, a Tahoma freshman, said. “In a way, it’s like having a teacher, but it’s much easier to bond,” Pravong said. 

Friday PLT is a main aspect of the mentor system because it allows students to have a whole day to make up any work and get ahead. One of the main things students do on Fridays is content assessments, which are tests for each subject to make sure students remember what they learned. Students have until a certain date to pass in order to remain on-track. Teachers must approve these assessments, make sure students don’t cheat and get the students help if needed. This is one of the main things teachers do on Fridays.

History teacher and mentor Eileen Kim said the mentor system is “one of the things that makes Summit special.” She also shared some concerns about Friday PLT: “Fridays for teachers are really tough; I imagine they are tough for students too, because you sit in a room all day doing work.” She also expressed how she has a lot to do on Fridays and mentoring all the students and approving content assessments is a lot to do at once. “It would be better if we modified what Friday PLT looked like.”


Tahoma history teacher and mentor Eileen Kim

“Fridays have been kind of scary as a senior mentor group,” Black said. “Our mentor is like super strict when it comes to us being on top of our work.” But she said they have all been pulling through and bonding about how hard their first semester was.

Students shared how they have helped each other. “There are some students, like my friend Sophia, who have helped me a lot in certain subjects, like Spanish or math.” Pravong said. Zavala said, “A lot of us were struggling in chemistry and Joanna helped us, like, she had a little workshop and we ended up passing that playlist that day.” 

“On Fridays we set up ‘stations’ based on class, in order to efficiently get our work done and help those who are behind,” Black said. She talked about how her classmates have kept each other accountable and on top of their work in senior year.

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Tahoma freshman Arnold Pravong

Students and teachers were also asked to share some special traditions or aspects about their mentor group. “We wear Crocs – we wear lemon yellow Crocs,” Ms. Hart said. “Stuff like that I think is super fun. They all came together and decided they wanted Crocs, because we had one student that always wore Crocs, and they thought it was a great idea. I’m so excited they actually wear them. I think it’s the best.”  

“Our community time always involves the entire mentor group, so we’re always participating,” Pravong said. He also talked about how they decorated their room for Christmas. “It was very fun experience to just have that much spirit,” he said.

Ms. Rodriguez talked about the many different personalities in her room: “There’s definitely specific personalities we’re all aware of that are larger than life, so sometimes that can turn into ‘don’t do that’ or ‘put that down’.” She said there are many times where these instances cause “different perspectives and different activities and just a lot of laughs; the group of kids is kinda what makes it special. I would say the differences and specific interests that everyone brings to the table are kinda what makes it interesting.”

As mentioned before, sometimes mentors leave and new teachers have to take over. This was the case for Ms. Kim’s mentor group, as she took over one mentor group in their junior year. “They hated me because they missed their old mentor. They were actually really mean to me in the beginning, and at the end they loved me,” Ms. Kim said.

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Ms. Kim’s “college wall”

Black tells us how her relationship with her mentor group has grown stronger, “I feel like they’re my family. We are comfortable talking with each other even if we aren’t super close, and I always feel like I have someone to rely on,” Black said.

Ms. Nguyen also told us about how she would like her bond with her students to strengthen. “I hope they grow to love us, not hate us,” Ms. Nguyen said. She talked about how some of her mentees are moving and how she wishes she could make them all stay: “I want to keep them all four years.” 

Ms. Hart echoed that feeling of family and friendship with her mentees: “My mentor group is why I come to work every day. I love my mentor group, like, when I come back from breaks I’m, like, ‘ugh, I don’t want to go to work but, yay, I get to see my mentees’. It’s the motivation behind everything,” Ms. Hart said. “I love them a lot.”