Author Archives: ngocsophianguyen

Heartfelt body-swapping movie embodies much more

By Sophia Nguyen

Staff Writer

shinkai

Makoto Shinkai, director and producer PHOTO CREDIT: Yoshifumi Shimizu

Many have praised Makoto Shinkai, director of “Kimi No Na Wa,” as the successor to Hayao Miyazaki, acclaimed director of “Spirited Away” and “Howl’s Moving Castle.” “Kimi No Na Wa” (better known as “Your Name” to international fans) has garnered much attention for surpassing “Spirited Away” as the highest grossing anime film of all time.

The film opens with a pair of teenagers: Mitsuha, an upbeat country girl, and Taki, a fast-paced city boy. The light-hearted gender swapping, highlighted by the characters’ comical natures, illustrates fleeting youth. The story soon shifts into a poignant blend of fate and chance as Taki and Mitsuha flourish.

Shinkai perfectly captures the essence of youth with cartoon-like characters and nostalgic landscapes. The movie is centered around the dilemmas adolescents face with identity and gender. As Mitsuha and Taki switch bodies, they become more empathetic with each other as their standards of femininity and masculinity change.

Shinkai’s perspective on human connection and relationships can be seen through the unpredictable plot. Though human emotions can be fickle, the otherworldly art further emphasizes the realistic characters. The cartoon-like lines separating the viewer and the characters begin to fade as Shinkai’s messages go beyond the screen.

Themes of connection and distance are commonly found in Shinkai’s works. His earlier films used passionate storylines to touch on ideas of loneliness. Whereas his previous works lacked cathartic release for the characters, “Your Name” provides a comedic effect to contrast with the serious issues Taki and Mitsuha deal with. The comical nature of “Your Name” can be compared to films from Studio Ghibli and shows the development of Shinkai’s producing.

Shinkai started off working in a small studio and creating short films. His skill was impressive to viewers considering he produced the majority of previous films on his own. Then he and Masashi Ando created “Your Name,” which not only became the highest grossing income anime film in Japan, but also won three Japanese Academy Prizes and was considered for an Oscar.

Since “Your Name” has surpassed “Spirited Away” in gross income, many believe “Your Name” could be the best anime film of all time. However, Shinkai himself has resisted the idea; According to Agence France-Presse, Shinkai claims “Your Name” is not on the same level as Miyazaki’s works. Shinkai is often compared with Miyazaki due to the similarities between “Your Name” and earlier films from Studio Ghibli. 

Kimi-no-Na-wa-Poster-kimi-no-na-wa-39515320-2894-4090 (1)

The official poster for “Your Name” exhibits Taki (left) and Mitsuha (right). PHOTO CREDIT: Toho

Miyazaki and Shinkai have unique production methods and stories, but both elicit powerful emotions from the audience. Toshio Suzuki, co-founder of Studio Ghibli, was asked about “Your Name” during an interview with Travelers Today. Suzuki said, “The high fall sky that seems like it could be breathed in was especially impressive.”

Although Ghibli films are treasures deeply rooted in my childhood, it is not too far-fetched to claim Shinkai might surpass Miyazaki. The humor and views in “Your Name” are well-suited to present-day society. The film uses supernatural components but retains the same familiar, awkward sincerity commonplace in today’s teenagers.

The director of animation for “Your Name” and former animator of Studio Ghibli, Masashi Ando, evokes the same wistful emotions reminiscent of “Spirited Away” and “Princess Mononoke.” Conversely, the dreamlike but almost hyper-realistic scenery of “Your Name” will transport you to an unknown world. By the end of the story, the story feels as tangible and genuine as everyday life.

The elaborate detail in the scenery, from the pastel skies to the dazzling lights, were based on real locations. The landscapes seem more lifelike in a style unique from Studio Ghibli. Many picturesque scenes rendered in the movie seem just as real to the viewer as the characters do.

In addition, the soundtrack strengthens the emotions of teenage naiveté with an upbeat feel that leaves you on the edge of your seat. The music by the Radwimps, a relatively popular Rock group in Japan, was tailor-made for the movie and “Your Name” would not be the same without unforgettable soundtracks like “Sparkle” and “Zen zen zense.”

https_blogs-images.forbes.comolliebarderfiles201704radwimps_banda-1200x675

The Radwimps, a popular Japanese rock band, scored “Your Name.” PHOTO CREDIT: Radwimps

The score plays a role in bridging Taki’s and Mitsuha’s worlds. The music allows the audience to experience various emotions and connects the lives of two characters who seem fundamentally different. The Radwimps have used music to link the characters in their troubles and their steadfast relationship.

As we witness Taki and Mitsuha swapping lives, they experience the protagonists’ growth. Taki and Mitsuha are entirely different people but connect with others just the same, even when they have never met each other. 

On the contrary, the parallel plot structure might be too complex for some viewers. As the story moves in between the perspectives of the characters, the details are slowly filled in by each side. The split narrative might cause some confusion for the audience, but it provides juxtaposition for other elements of the story.

International audiences are enthralled by this endearing story of two stubborn teenagers who connect the past and the present. As the protagonists meet, they are destined to connect through the red string of fate, a common and ancient element in Japanese culture.

Despite the themes of fate, the ending and the characters’ fates are still vague. Perhaps intentionally, the future of Taki and Mitsuha is left open-ended. It is up to the viewer’s imagination to fill in the holes, which might be as unsatisfying as watching only half of the movie.  

The public’s curiosity about Taki’s and Mitsuha’s future stems from the intense chemistry between them, the main ingredient that captivates people worldwide. Moviegoers will cry, laugh and persist alongside the characters as they become part of the story. “Your Name” has escalated to unbelievable extents.

Globally, “Your Name” has become immensely popular with the public, regardless of the language barrier. The English dubbed version has been released for foreign countries, but the original with subtitles is preferred by people and preserves Shinkai’s original intention.

In the end, I urge everyone to watch this tear-jerking film. Young or old, people everywhere will relate to this mystical yet authentic story that transcends language, which is why I chose to review “Your Name.” Mitsuha’s wise grandmother, Hitoha, summed it up best when she said, “Treasure the experience. Dreams fade away after you wake up.”

Featured photo (at the top of this post): This is an image from the trailer to “Your Name.” PHOTO CREDIT: Toho

Internet filtering at Summit Tahoma: change it

By Lilith Flowers, Kaitlyn Kelley and Sophia Nguyen

Staff Writers

The excessive internet filtering policies at Summit Public Schools: Tahoma are detrimental to a productive learning environment. Both teachers and students have voiced their concerns. Students will not be prepared for the distractions of an unfiltered internet, which is a problem that has grown as technology develops.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 35 percent of all public schools had internet access in 1994, and schools across the nation quickly followed suit. When asked about how schools decide whether or not to provide internet access, Mike Hiestand, Senior Legal Counsel to the Student Press Law Center, said, “Thankfully most schools have, and I don’t know any schools that say no internet access whatsoever.” Internet access is a gateway for students to controversial issues and new information.

DSC_0007(2)

Tahoma Executive Director Jonathan Stewart

However, Jonathan Stewart, Summit Tahoma executive director, said, “Our top priority is to protect the safety of our students.” In 2000, Congress shared the same opinion when they passed the Children’s Internet Protection Act. For schools, CIPA states that “protection measures must block or filter Internet access to pictures that are: obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors).” Although CIPA has kept students safe, the law is up to the interpretation of administrators and local government officials, which might not be suitable for every student.

For Summit Tahoma, the filtering system is based on CIPA, which determines what content public schools are required to block. Margaret Chi, who is in charge of GoGuardian for Summit Public Schools, stated that “anything related to CIPA is on the blocked category list by default. The list then evolves based on teacher and school leader requests.” Students cannot directly dispute blocked keywords, which might be a misjudgment of the students’ maturity on the administrative side.

ms. kim 2

Tahoma mentor and history teacher Eileen Kim

In addition, Eileen Kim, a Summit Tahoma history teacher and senior class mentor, believes internet filtering should be situational, depending on the age of the student. “If you are too young and immature, certain things need to be restricted. If you are at least a senior in high school, … you’re mature enough to make your own choice,” Ms. Kim said. Teachers have some responsibility for the growth and nurturing of young adult students.

“That’s part of education: being open to the world and all the things the world has, both the good and the bad, but in a meaningful and intentional way that’s age-appropriate,” Ms. Kim said. Students have access to more information than entire generations before them. Ms. Kim also mentioned that students need structure to properly handle the information they are given.

When prompted on why content blocks disrupt our education, Tahoma junior Florence Viado replied: “If the adults want us to take on responsibilities and act like adults, then they should treat us like them.” Each student can handle the internet differently, and high school is where we are educated on how to use the internet appropriately.

Furthermore, one broad content blocking system will not be effective or helpful for every student. Tahoma sophomore Ethan Farro shared, “I am slowed down by internet filtering, and a lot of resources and songs are unnecessarily blocked because the criteria is way too broad. It seems like the filters are designed to punish everyone.”

We asked Ron Johnson, Tahoma drama teacher, about how internet filtering might help or hinder students. Mr. Johnson said, “I honestly don’t have an answer for that because every student is different.” Mr. Johnson added that in some conditions, students might be struggling and need something like music to cope. Unfortunately, for those struggling students, their coping mechanism might have been blocked.

IMG_7350 (V)

Summit tech team member Vincent Wang

Most blocked websites and keywords are justifiable. Summit tech team member Vincent Wang commented on the urgency of blocking a distraction: “If it gets to the point where it’s spreading and disrupting schoolwork …, we will block it without hesitation,” Mr. Wang said. Conversely, some websites are blocked without having disrupted the learning process.

In an online survey sent out to all Tahoma students, many brought up unnecessarily blocked websites and keywords that have already or might become a hindrance to the learning process. Some responses included “various sites provided on the PLP,” “programming based sites,” and “psychology sites.” Tahoma junior Keith Ng stated, “Comedy is blocked on YouTube. Most talk show hosts are listed under ‘comedy’ [and] discuss very real topics that we should be aware of.”

Teachers and principals of public schools must be wary of the difference between blocking distracting material and censoring when filtering content. As a legal consultant with the Student Press Law Center, Mr. Hiestand emphasized that blocked websites may not be blocked due to the content or opinions provided on a site unless that material is a threat to the students. “The First Amendment restricts censorship by government officials,” Mr. Hiestand said.

 

Screenshot 2018-03-29 at 8.40.33 AM

These are the results of the survey about students’ experiences with internet filtering. About one-third of the total student body responded to the survey. 

Students have the right to freedom of speech and are given the ability to advocate for themselves. We wanted to know the students’ opinions, so we sent out a survey to all 335 Summit Tahoma students. 117 students replied, and 70 percent of students who answered our survey described their experience with internet filtering at Tahoma as negative.

Mr. Johnson discussed how internet filtering has interfered with his teaching. When he would assign students to find scripts online, a majority of the sites were blocked. “So my assignment is ‘Everybody go out and get a monologue. Here are the sites,’ and five minutes later we can’t get any monologues, and we can’t go to the website,” Mr. Johnson said. “So I have to find ways around it and do a lot more work to get them the scripts they need.”

Moreover, Mr. Johnson believes students and teachers should deliberate with the administration about the blocked content. He added that students should be notified of what is blocked; then, both students and teachers are mindful, and they can plan around it.

The filtering system is more obstructive than productive for the classroom environment.  “When it all comes down to it, we as teachers we work for the students. That’s something that gets lost. They’re not here for us. We’re here for them,” Mr. Johnson said. Teachers have a responsibility to teach students to be socially conscious as well as academically adept.

 

Black Lives Matter

Summit Tahoma’s content filtering system prohibited Tahoma freshmen Kent Williams from accessing the Black Lives Matter website.

Throughout a student’s time in school, they are exposed to many controversial debates including the March For Our Lives and Black Lives Matter movements. However, the content blocks are obstructive to the education of students because students are unable to access material related to large-scale movements affecting people throughout the nation.

LEE Headshot cropped

Summit Journalism teacher Liz DeOrnellas

Tahoma journalism teacher Liz DeOrnellas commented on how internet filtering has become a disturbance in the classroom. “The day-to-day…has been frustrating, particularly when it came to March For Our Lives stuff, and it’s been really disappointing to see how much of the advocacy work is blocked,” Ms. DeOrnellas said. “I think more than anything, that is what has personally bothered me.”

If students are shielded from content deemed distracting or inappropriate, they will not be prepared for college and adulthood, which is fairly ironic considering that Summit Tahoma is a college preparatory school. Students lose their ability to manage their own time and maintain self-control when something else does it for them.

When asked about the effectiveness of content blocks, Mr. Wang commented, “We always get reports that a student has found a loophole.” Students waste time on finding workarounds, which detracts from the efficiency of internet filtering. Students will only stay on task if they are taught to, not if they are forced to.

Internet filtering obstructs teachers’ lesson plans more than they help students focus and learn. Internet filtering should support education, not restrict it. Schools must change their approach to education because students live in a different environment than 10 or 20 years ago. As the generation raised alongside the internet, we have a responsibility to use the tools we have been given to our advantage.

Featured image (at the top of this post): Summit Tahoma’s content filtering system blocked the March For Our Lives website when Tahoma Freshman Kent Williams tried to access it for a journalism article.

High school performer discusses her dancing

By Sophia Nguyen

Staff Writer

April Chen, a freshman at Summit Tahoma, has been dancing for eight years. Earlier this year, she performed a cha-cha routine at the school talent show. Now, she discusses her background and history in dance.

  1. What type of dancing do you do? 

“I do all Latin dances, including cha-cha and many different other dances,” Chen said. “I do Chinese traditional dance and a little bit of ballet. I do mainly solo and partner dance for Latin dance and group dance for Chinese traditional dance.”

 2. Why did you choose this genre of dance? 

IMG_6747

Tahoma freshman April Chen

Chen said her mother sent her to the dance studio at first, but she found her dance classes interesting. As for her dance genre, Chen said, “I’m already good at it, so I didn’t want to change.”

3. What made you want to become a dancer? 

“My parents decided to send me to a dance studio because I got sick really easily when I was younger. They want[ed] me to exercise more. But after I have learned many dances and went to many competitions, I like the feel of being on the stage, the feeling that everyone is looking at you,” Chen said. “I like to perform. So, I decided to keep dancing, and I love it.”

3. What external forces (i.e. media, family, role models) influenced your dancing?

“My grandma was a dancer too. My mom had great drawing skills, so I was born in a family with artistic genes. Also, I was weak when I was younger – dancing lets me exercise,” Chen said. “I did Chinese traditional dance first because many other students chose this dance too. For Latin dance, it’s because my dance teachers – they’re really good at it. I liked how they danced.”

4. How does dancing affect your everyday life? 

“I am more flexible. I can accept new things. I have an open mind. I have an appreciation of art. Dance gives me more chances, and I get people’s respect too,” Chen said.

5. What have you learned from dancing? 

“I am not afraid of performing and public speaking. I know many teachers that are great and can give me a lot of opportunities,” Chen said, adding that dancing has made her confident and willing to try new things.

6. How much do you practice in a day? A year?

“I practice three times a week, but I stretch daily,” Chen said. Chen included that practice times might change, but her stretching is consistent. “We learn many dance works, routines and we get used to costumes, music and partners.”

7. What do you hope to achieve as a dancer? 

“I want to perform on the stage. I want to go to competitions. Maybe I will become a dance teacher in the future,” Chen shared.

8. Who are your role models? Why are they your role models? 

Chen said she respects everyone because she could learn from anyone who is more skilled than her in certain areas. “I could learn knowledge from an educated person. I could learn more about how people will act in different environments and situations … so, in some ways, everyone is my role model.”

9. How do you feel about dancing now?   

“When I first started dancing, it was a pain to me. I need[ed] to stretch a lot, and I didn’t like it,” Chen said, adding that she now understands “dancing is good for me both physically and mentally, and it can bring me many chances. I love dance, and I am going to continue dancing.”

Non-native English speakers face a life-long struggle

By Sophia Nguyen

Staff Writer

DSC_0006

Tahoma freshman Anja Azizaj

Anja Azizaj, a freshman student at Summit Tahoma, recalled the time when she first came to America from Albania. The first day of school is always daunting, but the experience was all the more so to a kindergartner who had moved across the world to a different country. She was forced to take tests in English, a seemingly nonsensical language compared to the one she had spoken for years.

Subsequently, Azizaj could not ask for help because she did not speak English. No one could understand her, and no one could help her. Her mother would come pick her up at school because she would eventually break down in confusion. Azizaj shared about the absence of her culture in her current community, saying, “In California, there aren’t many Albanians.”

IMG_7160

Tahoma freshman Alina Afroz

That memory might seem aged for Azizaj, but that same struggle remains for many English Language Learner students. Summit Public School: Tahoma prides itself on offering an excellent education for every student, “regardless of race, neighborhood or prior academic experience.” Tahoma freshman Alina Afroz said, “Summit Tahoma has a very diverse, supportive community of students.”

In Nov. 2016, a Los Angeles Times article stated, “Less than 5 percent of California public schools now offer multilingual programs, though there are now 1.4 million English learners.” Proposition 58 was then passed to overturn Proposition 227, which had required English learners to learn in English only. Now, schools can establish their own multilingual programs.

Summit Tahoma’s small student body consists of 340 students, approximately 16 percent of whom are not classified as proficient in English. According to the California Department of Education, 86.8 percent of ELL students in California schools speak Spanish, Vietnamese or Mandarin. Although students bring a large variety of culture and language to school, the focus of multilingual programs is simply to help students until they are proficient in English.

IMG_7170

Tahoma Executive Director Jonathan Stewart

When asked about options Summit Tahoma offers to ELL students, Executive Director Jonathan Stewart said, “For a group of students whose English level which is still beginner or not proficient, they are placed in a special Summit Reads class with Dr. McNeil. Dr. McNeil has a PhD in language acquisition.” Tahoma freshman Yiqing Bo, who is an ELL student, said reading English material helps her in class considerably.

DSC_0005 (1)

Tahoma freshman Yiqing Bo

At Summit Tahoma, personalized learning encourages students to learn at a pace suitable for themselves. “Because this school is smaller than other schools, teacher[s] can focus on students and give more help. I also like the PLT system because I can learn by reading,” Bo said.

The close-knit community allows multilingual teachers to communicate with students. Tahoma math teacher Thao Nguyen said, “It’s fun for [students] to ask me where I’m from and connect better. Even students I don’t teach, like a junior, can ask me because we share something in common.” Teachers offer educational help, as well as support through hardships.

DSC_0016

Tahoma math teacher Thao Nguyen

Non-native English speakers who teach can sympathize with the struggles ELL students feel. “In most classes, I wasn’t able to participate early, and I barely talk[ed] in front of class. It took me a long time to finish a sentence because I was still translating from Vietnamese in my head,” Ms. Nguyen said. Many non-native English speakers, teachers and students alike, have difficulties with speaking two languages due to translating.

Some multilingual people struggle with balancing their use of multiple languages and prioritize one language over another. “Sometimes, my Chinese slow down my English. Teachers always say I need to practice more English,” Bo said. For Azizaj, one solution is “speaking Albanian at home and speaking English at school.”

Many recognize the significance of multilingual options for students. The earlier approach of language immersion did bring up English proficiency at first, but multilingual education was seen differently by the time Proposition 227 passed. In the aforementioned Los Angeles Times article, the California Teachers Association president Eric Heins stated, “We are really a diverse state now, and we are participating in a worldwide economy. For our students to only know one language puts them at a disadvantage.” Proposition 227 taught English at the expense of highly valued bilingual skills.

The initial concern was the ELL students would not become English proficient. However, a Stanford report from 2014 discovered “students in English-immersion classrooms perform better than those in two-language classrooms in the early grades, but those in the two-language programs catch up to or even surpass their counterparts by middle school.” Not only do the Reclassified Fluent English Proficient students match the English Only students, but they surpass them.

DSC_0010(3)

Tahoma Spanish teacher Laura Ochoa

Outside of school, multilingual job candidates are highly valued, especially for positions focused on translation. In addition, speaking multiple languages opens doors to professions abroad. When asked about the benefits of being bilingual, Tahoma Spanish teacher Laura Ochoa commented, “I taught in Africa, English, and I taught in Ecuador, English. When I had applied for a job, they only had Spanish available. I thought ‘I could do that,’ and I ended up loving it.”

Ms. Ochoa said, “Learning another language is a lot easier when you speak two languages.” Certain languages have similar origins and are structurally similar. A study from the Science Daily journal found “fluency and skills in one language assist in the language acquisition of a second language, and possessing skills in two languages can boost the learning process of a third language.”

For Azizaj, one advantage is being able to communicate with family. Azizaj said, “My mom has a heavy accent, so it’s difficult when she talks. My dad doesn’t want to speak English so my sister and I don’t forget Albanian.” For families who emigrate, it is crucial to keep in touch with their culture, particularly so when they leave behind lives in different countries. “I think it was a good idea to move to America because the system over in Albania is very corrupted,” Azizaj said. 

Many see America as the epitome of high-quality education. Ms. Ochoa said, “My parents grew up in a third-world country, so it was very poor. America and Mexico are totally different places.” Students choose education in America for advantages they would not have in other countries. “When I was young, I was always curious how the American education system looked like,” Ms. Nguyen said. 

IMG_7167

Ms. Nguyen assists students in math.

When asked why she chose to teach in America, Ms. Nguyen said, “In the future, I want to go back to Vietnam at some point and bring back what I learned from America and apply that in Vietnam and see if that helps the students in Vietnam. In Vietnam, the students study very hard but the society is very far behind despite the fact that the students study harder than students in America.” ELL students and teachers have the opportunity to share what they learn between multiple communities.

In return, everyone in the community supports each other to help ELL students. This is especially important in California, where there is a large multilingual community. Bo explained one way peers and teachers could help, saying, “Maybe [have] some more explanation because sometimes, when they first say, I don’t understand.” The acceptance and support of non-native English speakers is essential for younger generations.

DSC_0009

Ms. Ochoa answers questions for freshman students.

The administration’s actions against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program have greatly impacted the ELL community. As a result, many people will lose opportunities, and America will lose many hopefuls. In an article from the New York Times, Vanessa Luna stated, “‘We’re going to lose leaders and lose teachers — it’s not only their presence, but having a teacher tha[t] can share the same experiences that you possibly had growing up,’” People directly affected by DACA bring variety to San Jose.

The presence of diverse and unique individuals allows Summit Tahoma and San Jose to develop as future generations flourish. Afroz said, “Many people who attend Tahoma are bilingual, which makes a friendly environment for all students to have a successful high school time.” Teachers have a fundamental role in creating an environment for success. Ms. Nguyen shared her goal as a teacher, saying, “ I want to help the next generation.”