Category: Feature

Centennial Participates in 2019 Hour of Code

Words: Alexandra Valerio

To promote coding careers for students, Centennial will be hosting the Hour of Code event from December 9 to 15, and students from all grades will be able to practice coding with staff at Centennial. 

Daleth Sendin, a Centennial Technology teacher, has been in charge of the Hour of Code event since it was adopted by the county. He mentioned that during his first Hour of Code, they “didn’t have chromebook[s] [or] computer labs like we have now.”

Sendin sent Centennial staff the Hour of Code 2019 materials so that the staff can properly show students how to code. Each year the English and Art departments participate. Believing that there is overlap between math, science, and computer science, Sendin wishes he would have more participation from these departments because “there is a lot of applicable stuff with the Hour of Code.” 

Sendin has recruited staff as well as students from computer science backgrounds, such as Girls Who Code, and additional groups who are interested in participating in the event. 

Junior Adam Goldstein has participated in the Hour of Code for all of middle school and two years of high school, but he also has a lot of programming experience outside of Hour of Code. He is knowledgeable in 10 programming languages, has maintained the chseagletime.com website, and has created VR headsets with his friends.

“I respect [the Hour of Code] vision, but [I] disagree with their focus,” says Goldstein. “I have seen [a] lack [of] an actual introduction to the main skills programmers use. [But, I believe] there are some [skills from the Hour of Code] that are beneficial.”

“I would want to see more activities like creating a simple sorting algorithm where you can only compare two objects at a time and choose to swap them or not… those sorts of conceptual higher level problem solving activities are much more similar to actual problems programmers face,” Goldstein reiterates. 

Goldstein feels it would be better to spread “curiosity to [new learners and] encourage them to keep exploring computer science.” He feels that it is “more satisfying than turning code into a game.” 

Peter Ganunis, a junior, has also done the Hour of Code for three years in middle school and two years in high school. His passion for coding, however, developed outside of the Hour of Code. 

Ganunis does a variety of aesthetic-centered work with web design and video game development. He is the founder of the Technology Seminar and has experience teaching kids at CodeNinjas, where he teaches computer programming to kids ages 7-12. He also belongs to CodeRead, a non-profit that teaches Java programming to middle school students at Burleigh Manor. 

“[The Hour of Code] has [the] ability to raise interest in computer programming. It succeeds in making computer programming seem accessible and gratifying,” said Ganunis.

According to Ganunis, Hour of Code emphasizes the basic principles of coding and allows it to be accessible for beginners. He believes in order to make it even more successful, it should have more gamification. 

Deja Grissom, a senior, participated in the Hour of Code as a junior. She found Hour of Code beneficial. 

“I think everyone should know how to code because technology is such a pivotal element in our society, everyone needs to know how to work the basics of a computer and smartphone,” she said. “It doesn’t mean anything if you just know how to press a button and a screen comes on. But to know what triggered the button and all the mechanisms that go inside of your phone for it to function… that’s important.”

Ellena Lee, a junior, participated in Hour of Code as a sophomore and it peaked her interest in coding. “It’s really interesting because the coding gives information not only about how to code in computers but also about how to collaborate the code with my hobby.” 

For the Hour of Code event, Sendin encourages people to participate in coding and understand the basic functions of technology. “We are all in a technological age where we interact with digital information all the time.” Sendin believes that “getting involved in the Hour of Code and learning some of those basics or how basic function works” will help people to become knowledgeable and be able to “expand their horizons” as well as “how they are interacting.”

nk/pb/ks

For more breaking news and photos, follow The Wingspan on Instagram and Twitter @CHSWingspan.

PLASTIC: Your Evil Best Friend

Words: Natalie Knight-Griffin

Photo: Sara Ferrara

Here we are. A generation of radical, idealistic, and often angry teenagers. We see the way the world has fallen apart under our feet: rainforests cut down, carbon emissions higher than ever, ice caps melting, mass extinction, oceans of plastic. We have been handed this responsibility, this enormous task of reversing hundreds of years of destruction and pollution. But we accept, no questions asked. Because we understand that this responsibility is greater than us.

I never imagined I would be the type of kid you hear about in the news, in the human interest stories after main program hours. The ones that run their own charities at age eight, the ones who are working day and night to make a difference, the ones who make you feel like you’ve done absolutely nothing with your life. My parents watched quietly before making the oh-so-familiar joke, “Why aren’t you trying to save the world?”

Then, the summer before my freshman year, I saw the Earth in peril and suddenly, I was.

My godmother had introduced me to Flow, a documentary detailing the privatization of water and its detrimental effect on both the worldwide class system and the environment. After that, I began spending the majority of my time observing my own post-consumer waste, not to mention that of my peers. The toothpaste bottle is empty and trashed at 6:38am. My best friend’s leftover coffee drink, watered down, is discarded at 11:12am. At 12:38pm, the bell rings and the lunch table is decorated with three Dasani bottles, sandwich bags with half-eaten PB&Js, Go-Go squeezes, and the assumed necessity of our school’s plastic utensils— despite the absence of their use.

At home, I stand in front of the enormous green bin in my complex; it begins to look the size of my apartment. Its opening is a void, a hole yawning for the day’s trash. None of which, I remember, will degrade in my lifetime. Nor the next. Nor the one after that.

We believe we live in a progressive society— but do we?

Awareness of plastic waste and its environmental effect is no secret. It now feels as though the idea of being “waste-free” is a trend. Reusable straws and biodegradable alternatives are now a marketing term. If capitalist America has caught up, why hasn’t the school system? Is Centennial really a self-proclaimed “green school” if we possess the ability to fill an entire landfill on our own?

In Howard County, we have the privilege of not acknowledging our post-consumer waste; to throw away that crumble of paper in our hands, that soda, in a split second, without another thought. We each produce pounds of trash every day. So, in the minds and hearts of our community, why doesn’t it matter? The answer is obvious: this waste does not directly affect us.

The day’s trash will be taken to the landfill. And that’s all we really need to know, right? What you don’t see are the pounds of waste that will never degrade. The billions of plastic materials  that will exist at the bottom of the ocean, in our forests, and in the stomachs of innocent animals for as long as they are alive.

There it was: my big project.

The one that could potentially be the answer to my parent’s fateful question.

Where does the single greatest amount of plastic exist within a high school? Three bins laying on a cafeteria table, each containing an abundance of forks, spoons, or knives.

So it began. I jumped in and invested two months of research into the depths of biodegradable and sustainable utensil distributors. I wrote and sent email after email to the officers at the Board of Education; hoping for traction. Constantly, desperately, always.

Eventually, my Principal Cynthia Dillon aided in landing a meeting from three officers from the Board of Education to discuss the transition away from plastic utensils. We met in the central office of Centennial, with Dillon there to facilitate. Nothing substantive came of the meeting, but I am not discouraged. I will continue to chronicle my research and experiences in a Wingspan series for the 2019-20 school year.

I inform you of this not to point the finger at anyone, nor to deem myself the heroine of this impossible challenge. Instead, I point my question to you.

What are you going to do?

 

This article is featured in the 2019 Winter Issue.  To see the full issue, Click Here!

For more breaking news and photos, follow The Wingspan on Instagram and Twitter @CHSWingspan

Sense and Sensibility Interviews

Podcast by: Casper Ambrose, Julia Stitely, Noelle Deal, Keith Hitzelberger, Camryn Desai

Get a closer look at Centennial’s production of Sense and Sensibility with interviews from the director and a lead in the show.

Jacob Traver | Theatre Teacher/ Director

 

Myeves Lucien | Portrays Marianne Dashwood

 

th/ks/pb/dt

For more breaking news and photos, follow The Wingspan on Instagram and Twitter @CHSWingspan

Why November? The Truth Behind College Board’s Decision

Words: Caleb McClatchey

Photo: Adithi Soogoor

For the world of secondary education, the College Board’s seemingly innocent February 6 press release contained a bombshell. In it, the educational non-profit announced it would be making two major changes to the Advanced Placement (AP) program for the 2019-20 school year. The first, giving teachers access to new online resources designed to help them better prepare their students for the AP exams, elicited largely positive responses from educators. The second, however, instantly sparked nationwide criticism.

This second change involved moving exam registration from the spring to the fall. Students must now sign up for AP exams by November 15, instead of March, to only pay the base exam fee of $94. Students who sign up for exams between November 16 and March 13 will have to pay a $40 late fee on top of the base exam fee. If a student changes their mind and decides to cancel an exam after November 15, they will still have to pay $40 of the $94 base exam fee.

According to the College Board, the decision to adopt fall registration was inspired by policies already in place in some AP schools. The College Board claims that some form of fall registration is already a “best practice” at over half of schools offering AP courses. However, it is unclear what specific policies the College Board considers fall registration or how strict these policies must be to be considered a “best practice.”

As the College Board explains, they learned that students in the schools which already offered fall registration were “more engaged and less likely to give up.” This increased commitment, the organization says, meant they were “more likely to earn a score that [would] translate to college credit.”

During the 2017-18 school year, the College Board conducted a pilot program to study the effects of fall registration and its alleged benefits. The organization implemented fall registration, among other changes, at 14 school districts across four different states. Combined, over 100 schools and 40,000 students participated in the pilot.

Although the College Board has provided minimal information on the nature of the pilot program or its results, it has relied heavily on anecdotes and highly limited data from the pilot program to support its claims. A video on the “2019-20 Changes to AP” page of the group’s website, for instance, shows teachers and students from pilot schools describing how they were initially skeptical of fall registration but came to realize that, as one teacher put it, “[It] really makes a difference.” Next to the video, the College Board explains that, “We’ve heard words like, ‘engaged,’ ‘confident’ and ‘less likely to give up’ when students register in the fall-and that commitment translates into more students taking the exam and earning college credit.”

Beyond anecdotal evidence, College Board boasts that, “Scores of 3+ increased across student groups” in their pilot program. A 3 is considered a passing score on the exams and is typically the minimum score required by colleges to earn credit. What College Board puts the greatest emphasis on, however, is the effect that fall registration had on groups it deems as traditionally underrepresented in the AP program. According to the College Board, underrepresented minorities (African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans), low-income students, and female STEM students fall under this category. The College Board claims that while fall registration “made a difference across the board,” it “had the strongest effect” on these students. Accompanying this claim– often in graph form– is essentially the only data from the pilot program which the College Board has currently made readily available to the public.

Chart contributed by: the College Board

The data, which shows the percentage increases in scores of 3+ across different student groups, reveals that underrepresented groups saw significantly higher relative increases in passing scores than their counterparts. The total number of scores of 3 or higher increased by 12% for underrepresented minority students compared to 5% for White/Asian students. Likewise, passing scores increased by 20% for low-income students and only 4% for moderate/high-income students. The same trend occurred with female STEM students, who achieved a 14% increase compared to a 5% increase for their male counterparts.

These results indicate that fall registration will help these student groups, who have historically had lower participation and passing rates, move closer to equitable representation within the AP Program. In fact, the College Board touts that, during one year of fall registration, “schools sped up the work of AP Equity– the share of AP Exam registrations for students of color– by seven years.”

However, the minimal data which College Board is currently providing, and corresponding claims it makes, are meaningless when taken out of the context of the rest of the pilot program data. Earlier this year, the College Board itself released somewhat more detailed data from the pilot program on its website. Although the College Board has taken down that web page since then, screenshots exist and the graphs which the College Board used on the page are still hosted on its website. These graphs displayed the raw number of total exam takers, underrepresented minority exam takers, low-income exam takers, and passing scores by low-income students within the pilot districts for the 2016, 2017, and 2018 AP exams.

This data, which the College Board has taken down for unknown reasons, is essential for putting the minimal data which they are currently trumpeting into context. This deleted data shows that while the total number of low-income exam takers increased by 33.5% from 2016-17 to 2017-18, the total number of moderate/high-income exam takers only increased by 3.9%. Given this fact, the graph showing a 20% increase in passing scores for low-income students compared to a 4% increase for moderate/high-income students is somewhat misleading. The number of low-income students taking exams simply increased at a much higher rate than did the number of moderate/high-income students taking exams. As a result, the number of exams passed by low-income students increased at a much higher rate as well. Relative to the increases in exam takers, low-income students did not see nearly as significant of an increase in performance compared to moderate/high-income students as the 20%-4% comparison suggests at first glance. This pattern is repeated with underrepresented minorities and non-underrepresented minorities as well.

To gain a more complete understanding of the program’s results, The Wingspan tracked down five of the fourteen school districts who participated in the 2017-18 pilot. Through public information requests, The Wingspan obtained previously unpublished AP data from four of these districts: Klein ISD in Texas, San Antonio ISD in Texas, Amarillo ISD in Texas, and Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky. The Wingspan would like to note that, despite The Wingspan’s best efforts, the data obtained for San Antonio ISD is limited to 11th and 12th graders.

Overall, the total number of exams taken increased by 7.7% across these four districts in the pilot’s first year. Since the total number of passing scores increased by a nearly identical 8%, the overall passing rate only increased by a marginal 0.11%.

For the three districts which reported results by economic status, the number of exams taken by students considered economically disadvantaged/eligible for free or reduced lunches (Eco-Dis/FRL) increased by 12.2%. Meanwhile, the total number of passing scores for these students increased by 17%. This translates to a 0.8% increase in pass rate. In comparison, the total number of exams taken, total number of exams passed, and pass rate for students not economically disadvantaged/not eligible for free or reduced lunches (Non-Eco Dis/FRL) increased by 2.2%, 6.2%, and 2.0%, respectively.

Across all four districts, the total number of exams taken by African American and Latino students increased by 10.36%. At the same time, the total number of exams passed increased by 15.6% and the pass rate increased by 0.99%. For all other students, the number of exams taken, number of exams passed, and pass rate increased by only 5.8%, 5.9%, and 0.05%, respectively.

In the aggregate, the detailed data obtained by The Wingspan appears to tell the same story as the College Board’s deleted data. It seems that the changes implemented by the pilot did increase equity with regards to access. Underrepresented groups saw a much higher percentage increase in exams taken than their overrepresented counterparts. However, the pilot appears to have done little to close the performance gap between underrepresented and overrepresented groups. In the three districts which reported results by economic status, the passing rate for Non-Eco Dis/FRL students was 30.8% higher than the passing rate for Eco Dis/FRL students in the 2016-17 school year. In the pilot’s first year, this gap actually increased to 32.0%.

It is important to note that the results of the pilot program varied significantly between districts. How the pilot affected an individual district often differed from how the pilot affected the four districts as a whole. Although the number of exams taken by Eco Dis/FRL students increased by 12.2% overall, this number increased by a staggering 116% in Amarillo ISD and actually declined by 0.68% in Jefferson County. Furthermore, despite the gap in passing rates between African American/Latino students and other students decreasing by 0.94% overall, this gap increased in three of the four districts.

These differences in results shed light on a frustrating aspect of analyzing the pilot program data: there are simply so many variables at play. The previous AP registration policy, the cost paid for exams by low-income students, the quality of AP instruction, and any changes in enrollment all influenced how a district’s AP results changed during the pilot program. Since these factors significantly vary by state and school district throughout the country, one should not expect the universal adoption of fall registration to have a universal effect.

Further complicating a true evaluation of the results of the pilot program is the nature of the pilot program itself. As it turns out, instituting a fall registration deadline was just one of many changes implemented by the College Board as part of their 2017-18 AP Pilot. Most notably, all participating school districts received access to a new support system of online resources. According to the “AP Full Year Model Implementation Plan” attached to the pilot participation agreement between the College Board and Jefferson County Public Schools, these resources were meant to enable, “yearlong, college-level practice and instruction in AP classrooms.” Highlighting these resources was an AP Question Bank available for all AP courses. The pilot agreement describes this as a “comprehensive repository of AP released and practice exam questions indexed to unit content and skills, including reports highlighting student knowledge and skill achievements and gaps.” Teachers could use these questions to build custom quizzes for each unit, students could practice with them online or on paper, and administrators could access “year-round performance and usage data.” Furthermore, AP Calculus and World History teachers received access to additional resources including scoring training, unit quizzes, and student-directed practice.

Although the pilot schools and their teachers were free to use these resources as they wished, the College Board provided them with intent and wanted them to be utilized. In fact, the aforementioned implementation plan, written by the College Board, states that, “The College Board encourages District’s utilization of these resources.” The plan explains that this will, “enable the College Board to learn about usage patterns.”

While it is impossible to quantify the exact impact of these resources, it is highly likely that they increased student performance to some extent. Kevin Rasco, District Coordinator of Advanced Placement for San Antonio ISD, described these resources as being “very heavily used,” especially for Calculus and World History. In Amarillo ISD, Director of Counseling/College and Career Readiness Tracy Morman said the resources were utilized to varying extents by different teachers but on the whole were “very beneficial.” Both Morman and Rasco emphasized how the resources allowed teachers and students to track students’ progress throughout the year. This gave students added confidence and teachers the ability to assess the effectiveness of their instruction throughout the course.

Megan Shadid, an AP Economics and World History teacher from one of the pilot districts, echoed these sentiments in an interview with USA Today. “It’s been a game changer for me in terms of how I teach,” she explained.

If the College Board wanted to “further study the effects of moving exam registration to the fall,” as their website says, why introduce another variable into the study in the form of these highly beneficial online resources? Even ignoring all of the other factors influencing a district’s AP exam results, it is now impossible to say to what extent the results of the pilot are indicative of the effects of fall registration and to what extent they are indicative of the benefits of the online resources. Given that this uncertainty was created by the way the College Board designed the pilot, it is curious that they do not mention their inclusion of the online resources in practically any of the information they have released about the program.

Despite questions about College Board’s representation of the pilot program and its results, there seems to be plenty of support for the fall registration deadline from those involved with the pilot.

Regarding the decision to implement fall registration nationwide, Rasco stated, “I’m behind it. I believe in it… For one reason: you commit early to the full AP experience.”

Rasco believes that kids thrive in structure and high expectations. By forcing students to register early, teachers know they have a classroom full of kids committed to taking the exams. According to Rasco, this causes a “dramatic change in the way a teacher conducts their class.”

Like Rasco, Morman also thinks that the decision is a great move and called it  “a win-win for everybody.” She emphasized that the fall registration deadline and online resources were very beneficial for her district and believes that they are what’s best for students in general.

As long as there are skeptics of the College Board, there will always be controversy surrounding the decisions it makes. The move to a fall registration deadline for AP exams is no different. The inconvenient truth, for both the College Board and its critics, is that no clear narrative appeared to emerge from The Wingspan’s investigation of the 2017-18 AP Pilot Program. Although the changes implemented by the program seemed to increase equity with regards to access, their effect on equity with regards to performance seemed to be minimal. While some of those involved in the pilot like Rasco and Morman have expressed their support of fall registration, the College Board’s limited and somewhat misleading representations of the pilot program’s results and its nature raise questions. Unfortunately, there is and in all likelihood will be no final verdict, no definitive answers.The truth, much like the pilot program and the College Board itself, is complicated.

 

To listen to a behind the scenes interview with the author, Caleb McClatchey, click here!

To view the entire November issue, click here!

For more breaking news and photos, follow The Wingspan on Instagram and Twitter @CHSWingspan.

The Vaping Trap: “It will most definitely ruin your life.”

Words & Photo: Delanie Tucker

“I think [vapes] are way too easy for teenagers to get. I think teenagers are uneducated on how dangerous [vaping] is. I think the flavors do cater to a younger crowd. And I think [teens] have a misnomer that it’s safe,” said Marc Carneal, Centennial’s Student Resource Officer.       

In today’s society, teen vaping has almost become normalized. Someone sees a high school student carrying around an e-cigarette, which will more often than not be a Juul, and they hardly bat an eye.

Centennial High School students do not stray from this pattern, leading to continuous administrative efforts to curb the issue of vaping in school.

Centennial’s principal, Cynthia Dillon, sent out a newsletter last year on September 21, 2018, informing the Centennial community of her concerns and what they can do to help fix it.       

“I am concerned about this growing epidemic of use and abuse by kids in our community,” Dillon stated in the letter. “Juuling, which is essentially the same as vaping only with a different device, is on the rise nationally.”       

Dillon is not the only Centennial administrator that has a strong opinion on the matter.   

“I think [the vaping problem within Centennial] is very serious,” said Cameron Rahnama, Assistant Principal. “[Vapes] are a lot easier to conceal than cigarettes… so kids think they can get away with it easier.”       

Most teenagers are convinced that vaping is a safe alternative to smoking. Some even start vaping because it is marketed as less harmful in comparison to smoking cigarettes, so they don’t think it will hurt them.           

These minors are under the impression that there is less nicotine and other harmful substances in a Juul than in a standard cigarette, but that’s not true.           

A single Juul pod contains around 45mg of nicotine, while a cigarette contains only 12mg. Juuls have the highest nicotine levels when compared to other e-cigarettes. The National Center for Health Research stated that the e-liquid in a Juul pod is 5 percent nicotine, which is staggeringly high considering the liquid in a Blu e-cig, another type of e-cigarette, is only 2.4 percent nicotine.       

A common argument in defense of e-cigarettes is that only water vapor is inhaled, but what is actually being breathed in is called an aerosol. An aerosol is a gas made up of liquid particles that contain many toxic chemicals, which are created when the e-juice is heated up.   

“The aerosol produced by vaping or juuling is inhaled deep into the lungs,” according to The Vape Experiment , an article published by the Maryland Department of Health. “Studies have found that inhaling these chemicals can lead to asthma, inflammation, and even make it permanently harder to breathe.”       

The major chemicals found in the aerosol are propylene glycol, glycerol, lead, acetone, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, tin, nickel, nicotine, propenal, diacetin, and triacitine, none of which belong in your lungs.       

Teenagers’ willingness to overlook all of these statistics, which are publicly displayed with the intent of keeping minors from vaping, is leading to serious lung infections and, in some cases, death. In the past year alone there have been six recorded deaths caused by vaping-induced lung infections in the United States.   

Fortunately, not all cases have been fatal.   

“We have… seen at least 15 cases in Maryland and 380 across the country where individuals have been hospitalized with lung diseases associated with vaping,” Robert R. Neall, the Health Secretary for the MDH, said in an e-mailed statement, referring to statistics that were current as of September 10.       

Those that vape like to push aside the idea of something like this occurring. Being put in the hospital because of vaping is not something people consider often because they don’t think that it will happen to them, but that’s not always true.           

The possibility of falling ill should be a lot more obvious in Howard County now since, although we haven’t seen any local deaths, there has been a serious vaping issue very close to home.   

A Centennial student, 18-year-old junior Nafees Basharat, was hospitalized with a lung infection and pneumonia.   

“[The doctors] had to send a camera down my throat and vacuum up all the liquid in my lungs,” stated Basharat on his time in the hospital.   

The experience drastically changed his life, as the time spent in a hospital bed opened his eyes to the damage vaping was doing to his body.   

“Vaping was the worst decision of my life and it was really hard to stop until I was hospitalized. Before that, I wasn’t really aware of the problems and the health risks that came with [vaping],” Basharat explained. “[Vaping] can harm you. It can kill you. And it will most definitely ruin your life.”   

As a result of all of the hospitalizations and deaths in America, the government has taken action to prevent the use of e-cigarettes by minors and young adults.

Locally, after adding e-cigarettes to the list of tobacco products, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed off on a bill that changed the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21, which went into effect on October 1, 2019.   

This bill was created in an effort to decrease the chances of minors getting a hold of the devices but there are, as always, people willing to sell to underage kids off the record.           

Now, in an attempt to prevent any more minors from vaping, President Trump is moving to ban the sale of most flavored e-cigarettes and nicotine pods.       

It has been speculated that the sale of those flavors, such as mint and mango, is done with the intent of making the products more appealing to younger buyers.   

A potential problem with this proposed law is due to the high demand for flavored pods. There is a chance that people might start making their own and selling them. This could lead to further, and potentially more dangerous, health hazards, as most people wouldn’t know how to properly make one.   

Officer Carneal does not believe that the new law will have any effect on underage vaping.

“I think no matter what, someone will buy it for them.”

 

To view the entire November issue, click here!

For more breaking news and photos, follow The Wingspan on Instagram and Twitter @CHSWingspan

Greetings from Sarfraz Manzoor: An Exclusive Wingspan Interview

Words: Emily Hollwedel

Photos Contributed by: Sarfraz Manzoor

A young Pakistani boy around the age of sixteen is sitting in his room on a wooden chair in the dark. A party, bass thumping, can be heard from a few houses down, a party he can’t attend. He’s holding a cassette tape in his hand with the words “Bruce Springsteen” and “Born in the USA” written across the front. A friend from his class, whom everyone calls Roops, lent it to him. He’s skeptical: what could this rock star know about his life, his struggles? He’s in Luton, England, an ocean away from anything American. He’s brown and Muslim. In his other hand he clutches a Walkman, ready for use. He slowly slides in the cassette, and presses play, fast-forwarding all the way to ‘Dancing in the Dark.’ The song begins— the Earth shifts.

Blinded by the Light, directed by Gurinder Chadha, tells the story of this boy, Javed Khan, who is rather detached from his predominantly white community in 1987 Britain. It details his writing, his life, and how Springsteen changed all of that.

Above all, what makes it appealing is that it’s based on a true story. When writing his memoir, Greetings from Bury Park, journalist Sarfraz Manzoor reached out to Chadha and together they fleshed out a movie concept, and the project took off from there.

In an exclusive Wingspan interview I had the pleasure of interviewing Manzoor about his experiences with the creation of the film, Springsteen’s music, and more.

WS: How did music, specifically Bruce Springsteen, help you cope with your struggles and your life?

The cast and author of Blinded by the Light pose for a picture.

SM: Well, I guess it was just the fact that when I was growing up, there wasn’t really anybody I could look to, who could give me hope that there was a different way of life or a different route out of where my life was… I had no role models of anybody who could do anything different, and so I didn’t really feel like anybody who came from my background did anything interesting. And I guess when I listened to Springsteen I was like… his songs are about [working-class] people exactly like me, but he still has hope… I needed that at that time, you know?

WS: How did you feel when you saw the movie for the first time?

SM: To be honest, the first time I saw anything… it was the trailer… I just went absolutely ecstatic because this was even before the film. But having been on set, you see actors doing their scenes and stuff… I went ‘Oh my God. This actually looks like a real film’… when you suddenly realize this is no small deal here, we’re not mucking about. The other part that was weird is that you’ve got all these people who didn’t grow up in [Luton] who didn’t live my life, who all suddenly feel like they’ve got a connection to it. They’re like, ‘Oh my God, this dad reminds me of my dad’ and I’m like, ‘Well, that’s kind of not really possible, because it’s my dad I’m talking about’… the fact that this film is showing all across America; it’s actually just opening in France. I’m getting messages from Argentina and Israel [of] people saying they’re watching the film… it’s that moment where you realize the film is way bigger than just me.

WS: Growing up, I saw very few examples of positive South Asian representation in cinema… what kind of impact do you think that Blinded by the Light will have in terms of Asian representation?

SM: I think it’s already had that. I’ve had loads of people from the Asian community, saying, ‘Thank you for telling a story, I see myself in this film’… It was really important that the parents [in the film] were sympathetic, that they weren’t just simplistic monsters. Obviously, they see the world differently than Javed does, but you also see them struggle, you see them work, and you see them as decent people who in some ways are trying their best. [This film] shows that… you don’t have to necessarily make films that are niche just because you’ve got nonwhite faces in the film.

WS: What has the experience of this movie being out been like for you?

SM: It’s been an emotional rollercoaster, it’s been a dream, it’s been really, really emotionally powerful to share a story that’s very small and specific with the world. And it’s also been a dream come true— a month ago today, I was in Asbury Park for the premiere, and Springsteen turned up. Who would’ve thought when I was sixteen that Springsteen would turn up for the premiere of my film? There are certain things which are so crazy and really hard for the brain to take in, and that is one of them.

WS: What do you hope that people will take from this film?

SM: I hope that if they’re not already Bruce Springsteen fans, [that] they’ll give him a chance. I hope [that] they realize all of us have got more in common than what divides us— that race and religion and nationality are just labels, but actually underneath it, we all want to make our parents proud, we all want to make our dreams come true. And I also hope that it might help the next time somebody— a politician— tries to exploit hatred of Muslims and tries to make that a political thing to try and get votes from, I hope somebody will say ‘You know what? I remember watching this film with some Muslim characters and they seemed really nice; I’m not gonna go along with this sort of witch hunt and hatred because the truth is not what these politicians are telling me.’

WS: The whole movie focuses on the impact that music can have on an individual. What do you think makes people connect with music in such a way?

SM: What Bruce does, and I think that it’s something that the best people do, [he writes] really specifically about [his] life [and his] experiences, but [he does] it in such a way that people feel they can see themselves in the story. If you think— he’s talking about Asbury Park, he’s talking about the specific factories, he talks about the New Jersey Turnpike— they’re not just generic roads or generic towns, they’re actually specific places. But he does it in such a way that you think, ‘Oh wow, that could be a bit like my town!’ So the trick is that he is very, very specific, and by being specific it becomes universal… he creates this world, and it’s really detailed, and in that world we see ourselves.

 

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