Tag: Maryam Elhabashy

The Curious Case of High School Friendships

Words: Maryam Elhabashy

As another year comes to an end, another class of seniors are off to college and another class of freshmen wait in the wings to make their Eagle debut. What an eventful year it’s been! The Home of the Eagles is now the proud nest of the reigning State Basketball Champions, for the first time ever! And the tennis team won back the County Cup, after a fourteen-year dry spell! There’s not enough room to try to list all of the Eagles’ academic accolades! These achievements will not soon be forgotten. There is one thing, however, that counter intuitively tends to fall victim to abandonment when high school ends- friendships.

What is a BFF? In 1997, millions of people learned what it meant, when on an episode of the TV show “Friends,” Phoebe explained that BFF means “best friends forever.” High school provides the most opportune environment for the establishment of these BFFs. Really. It’s a scientific fact.

In a 2003 research article entitled “Best friends forever? High school best friendships and the transition to college,” Deborah L. Oswald and Eddie M. Clark give the reasons for such strong high school bonds, and the benefits that these bonds provide.

High school is what they call the “focus activity,” that gives the context for these relationships. Though the high school workload can be heavy, there are a multitude of sports programs, clubs, and extracurricular events through which solid, meaningful connections are made. It is during the high school years that kids really start to forge their own paths, spending more time with their peers than their parents. They start experimenting with who they are, and develop social skills. Friendships provide “social support, give a sense of belonging, and shape beliefs.”

A high school friend understands the pressure you feel about your grades, can empathize when your parents take your phone away, and are more willing to share their clothes with you than most siblings are. In some cases, their shoulders are better to cry on than a member of the family. A BFF can become family.

In fact, Oswald cites another study that concludes that adolescents “need the special support offered by a best friend.” It states that the best friendships provide “acceptance, respect, trust, intimacy, enjoyment, spontaneity, stability, and self-disclosure and opportunities.”

That’s A LOT of important “stuff” one gains from a best friend. So how and why does the “Best” and “Forever” fall off so easily when kids go off to college?

Well, in many cases the social context changes. The school as “focus activity” is in a new state, or consists of thousands of people instead of hundreds. College is also like the second step of experimentation in becoming an adult. Some kids just add new layers to who they are, while others want to change entirely- shed who they were in high school and be someone new. That means new social settings, new activities, and new friends.

I think we students all kind of understand this part. It’s what makes college so exciting. It’s not just the academic opportunities, but the social opportunities. The research article states that 97% of college students say they find a new “closest” friend within the first month of college. However, the majority of these friendships do not last for the full first year.

In fact, the article reports that students who are “preoccupied with the potential loss of pre-college friends report emotional distress, decreased satisfaction with college friends, loneliness, and college maladjustment.” So that first year of new friends can be extremely hard, but it’s almost inevitable (I’ll explain in a minute).

Though the science may lead us to the conclusion that most high school friendships are non-existent by the time college is over, I would hope that some of us can be the anomaly. I mean, the science is also telling us that the first year of college would be a lot easier on you if you can hold on to some of those meaningful high school relationships, that provide stability and security.

Oswald and Clark identified four types of behaviors that maintained friendships: interaction, positivity, supportiveness, and self-disclosure. In detail, these are: doing things together, being positive and making the friendship enjoyable, supporting the friend and the friendship with emotional support, and having meaningful communication, such as sharing private thoughts.

I know that it’s perfectly acceptable to think that teenagers can’t have meaningful relationships or don’t really know how to do so. That perhaps they are too immature to commit to such serious ideas. It’s the “that’s SO high school” comment. But I disagree. If we can roll through AP classes, or lead teams to victories, or create fantastic art projects, or devote time to community service- we can have long-lasting, mature friendships. Keep the BFFs to our own benefit. Of course, the friendships will change over time. Instead of borrowing a pair of sweatpants, maybe it’ll be a blender you’ll be borrowing (and hopefully, returning). Or the selfie of you and your friends at some concert will become you and your friends sharing a job promotion celebration.

I guess the bottom line is that wanting to experiment and have new social experiences are a great thing, and something to be excited about. But I hate to think that we can’t have or benefit from these new experiences without ditching the friendships we’ve built over time. In fact, I’d argue that these new experiences would be more valuable with our BFFs by our sides. I’ve still got a couple of years before I test the science out for myself, but I’d like to think that I’m creating lifelong friends.

Best friendships are a personal investment. Best friends know things about you that maybe your parents don’t even know. And they are still your best friends through it all. The personal connections we make are arguably as valuable as the high school diploma that we receive. The diploma signifies our ability to work hard and excel in academics. The friendships are intangible, irreplaceable pools of memories and experiences that not only mold who you are, but can continue to mold the shape of who you will become.

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

A Student’s Perspective on Finals Week

Words: Maryam Elhabashy

For as long as many of us can remember, the last week of school has been either the most or least demanding weeks of the year. In elementary school we strip our cute name tags off of our desks, a far cry from studying for a final exam that holds the promise of success or failure of the entire year’s grade. In years past, students have been lucky enough to have a full week of half days, allowing for a little calm after every final exam’s storm, also offering optimum time for studying. This year we’re not so lucky.

Mother Nature went particularly heavy on the winter weather this year, leaving us with only two half days during exam week.

USA Today reported that according to the “National Survey of Student Engagement’s” findings, students spend an average of 17 hours a week preparing for classes, about 3.4 hours a day. Finals are notorious for requiring more work, more attention, and more time. With the elimination of three half days, students are going to need to re-assess how they apportion their study time. It’s like adding insult to injury, really. Not only are we ending a week later than originally scheduled, we also have to tighten our grips on final exam studying (and sleeping, when possible!).

But do we have the right to complain?

There’s no time like the present. It’s a fitting proverb to describe the highs and lows of the snow day. Ah! The joy of snow days. Every student knows the rush of relief and glee when their parent creeps quietly into their room, still dark as the night at 6 am on a winter morning, and says that school has been cancelled. The glee quickly melts into more z’s on the pillow. That’s the high.

What goes up must come down. It’s the middle of June (after June 10, the originally scheduled last day of school), and I think we’re there. But after eight snow days (glee!) and eight delayed start days this year (a little bit of glee), we knew we were in for some kind of last day adjustment.

That adjustment is actually a lot more complicated than one might think. The Maryland State Department of Education mandates that high schools complete a total of 180 instructional days, that involve 1,170 instructional hours per year. The hours requirement is what changed the originally scheduled half day on Wednesday, June 17, to a full day, and added an hour of instruction on Thursday, June 18.  With five snow days built into the original calendar, and eight days taken, we had three days to make up. Howard County applied for and received a waiver for one of those days, meaning we needed to add two days to the school year somehow.

Though there is little that can be done beyond the waiver to alter the number of hours or school days that students attend in a year (though I’m slightly baffled by Fairfax County’s THIRTEEN snow days!), there are different ways to determine when those hours and days are made up.

Some Maryland counties actually cut days out of Spring Break (personally not a fan of this one!), acknowledging that they might have a lot of absent kids on those days. Most counties also applied for and received waivers just as Howard County did. In other states that are used to harsh and prolonged winter weather, there are numerous options to make up snow days. In Iowa, the Board of Education allows for holding classes on previously designated holidays, professional days, or half day schedules; or increasing instructional time by adding minutes to each school day, holding classes on Saturdays, or adding days to the end of the year (the option Howard County took).

I want to take a closer look at option number one: holding classes on previously scheduled holidays, professional days, or half days. When I took a look back at the calendar, I realized that there were a few opportunities to knock out some snow day make-ups: two days in February for parent-teacher conferences, a half day before Spring Break began, and a professional day in May. This option might have preserved our half-day exam week, as well as cut fewer days from summer break. It’s not uncommon for parents to receive letters from school administrations, explaining calendar alterations due to snow days. I doubt that parents would have been up in arms about having their students stay for full days on parent-teacher conference days. In fact, I’d argue that if there are issues with a student, parents and/or teachers need not wait for the conference days to discuss them. And if there aren’t any complaints or issues, do parents (or teachers) really need to speak for 15 minutes about how awesome a student is? I’d much rather have spent the rest of the day in class in February (typical school year), than add a day of school in the middle of June (summer break!). The same goes for that “bonus” three hours we got on the Friday before Spring Break. I would have much rather kept a full day of summer break!

The bottom line is this: I guess we don’t have any real right to complain. In actuality, with the approved waiver, we only had 179 days of school instead of the originally mandated 180 days. So we can’t crash in bed at 11:30 in the morning on Wednesday the 17; we’ll deal with it.

Admittedly, I’m looking at the situation purely as a high school student. Summer break is hallowed ground, and the bliss of sleeping in on that winter morning is long forgotten. This high school student, with limited knowledge of how complicated snow day make-ups can be, would like to see more thought given to making up snow days on springtime professional days, half-days, and holidays, instead of cracking into summer break and jostling around final exam week.

But then again, if I had it my way, I’d still be pulling my laminated name tag off of a desk, instead of studying all night for a final exam.

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

Centennial Tennis Teams Win 2015 County Tournament

Words: Ashley Berry

The Centennial boys and girls tennis team won the Howard County Tennis Tournament this year for the first time since 2001. The tournament was held at the Wilde Lake Tennis Center from Tuesday, May 5, 2015 to Saturday, May 9.

Overall, Ram Kotnana placed 2nd in the Boys Singles, Lexi Hackerman and Gaby Schito placed 2nd in Girls Doubles, and Jazmin Walle and Andrew Tsai won 1st place in Mixed Doubles.

While only 20 of the 27 students on the team participated in the tournament, those who did not play came to support and congratulate their teammates. All players who participated made it through the first round, and many of them made it to the quarterfinals. The girls team is: Sarah Ho, Maryam Elhabashy, Lexi Hackerman, Gaby Schito, Angela Kou, Shiori Mori, Jazmin Walle, Lina Choi, Alice Xue, Lia LasCasas, Tina Ye, Ipse Sokvary, Nikki Nacion, and Sanjara Neerumalla; the boys team is: Ram Kotnana, Arthur Tsend Anant Mishra, Peter Ho, Vincent Liu, Andrew Deng, Andrew Tsai, Andy Tseng, Phillip Balakirsky, William Liu, Thomas Regnante, Nadrew Zhou, Nick Zou.

Erin Fisher led the teams through the season as their coach. Fisher said, “It [the tournament] was a complete team effort and would not have been possible without the contributions of all those involved.”

The boys’ team has also won the county title and the girls are in second place. Both teams will continue to represent Centennial this Thursday and Friday, May 14 and 15, in the Regional tournament.

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

Kittleman Statement and Photo Timeline

Words: Maryam Elhabashy

During the process of writing my story for the “Unsung Heroes of The Civil Rights Movement in Howard County,” I tried to get as many credible voices to speak about desegregation in Howard County as possible. I decided to contact Allan Kittleman, whose father Robert Kittleman was extremely involved in desegregating Howard County. I emailed the Howard County Government website. I didn’t expect a response. I figured The Howard County Executive was an extremely busy man who had more important things to focus on. A few days later I was elated to see a reply. These are the words Allan Kittleman wrote to me. Below it is a link to a timeline I created to emphasize on the momentous events that brought the end of segregation in Howard County.

Dear Ms. Elhabashy,

I’m touched and delighted that you’re recalling my father’s contributions to the historic actions leading to the desegregation of our County’s schools.

Needless to say in today’s times, that action was long overdue, and corrected a terrible wrong, but in those times it took great courage to speak out against the status quo, the old practice of having separate schools for black and white children.

My Dad did what he did not because he thought we’d remember and praise him 50 years later, but because he knew it was right.  He helped others see that segregation was wrong, and was hurtful to our county and his friends of every color.  Dad got criticized and even threatened for saying all kids had equal rights and deserved equal treatment, but he didn’t let that change his mind.  He’s the example I think of every time I face a question that demands courage to do what’s right, and what may be unpopular.  I recall how he worked with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and became its first white member in Howard County, and later its only white President.  Now our schools are widely thought to be among the best in the United States, and the contributions of every member of our tremendously diverse student body are among the reasons why that is so.  Thanks for recalling how we got to where we are today.


For more information about the history of the Civil Rights Movement in Howard County, check out http://www.dipity.com/melhab/Desegregation-in-Howard-County-Schools/


Centennial Alumni Wins Baltimore Marathon

Words: Maryam Elhabashy

Not everyone can run a marathon let alone win one. However, Centennial alumni Alex Wang did exactly that on October 18, 2014. She completed the Baltimore Marathon with a time of 2:58.41, making her not only the sole female in the entire race to complete the 26.2 miles under 3 hours but also the winner of the female division.

“She had been hoping to go under three hours, and to do it in Baltimore is a tremendous accomplishment because it’s such a tough course,” said Wang’s former coach, Robert Slopek. “To run a [personal record] and win a marathon is something very few people can ever say they’ve done.”

Wang graduated from Centennial in 2009. She ran for the cross-country and track teams where she was mentored and coached by Alan Dodds and Robert Slopek.

“She ran varsity every year. She was a very strong runner and was able to push through a lot. She certainly contributed to the toughness of our team and was someone people could look up to,” said Slopek.

“We were very pleased when Alex moved into the Centennial district and joined our program. She certainly made our team better. Alex was an above average runner,” said Dodds.

Wang later ran for her college club at the University of Maryland and now runs for the Howard County Striders. Wang joined the Howard County Striders racing team in April of this year.

“She has posted some great performances this summer and … But I think the win at the marathon this past weekend is by far her most impressive accomplishment since joining the team,” said the racing team director of the Striders, Carlos Renjifo. “I expect many more outstanding results from her in the year to come.”

The coaches involved in training Wang were all very excited when they heard of her victory.

“I was very excited and very proud of her.  I was watching the marathon on television and wondering when they were going to give an update on the women’s race and as soon as they showed her picture and said it was Alex, I was very happy but not surprised,” said Slopek.

Dodds mentioned, “Mr. Slopek actually texted me while I was at cross country practice, to let me know that she was about to win the race.  I felt very proud that one of our own was that successful.  I couldn’t wait to tell my runners.”

Coach Phil Lang said, “She was prepared; she paced herself well and she proved to be most talented woman in the race.  We are all very proud of her.” Renjifo added, “Having her as part of the team has lifted the team up as a whole, making everyone push themselves a bit harder, and getting faster in the process.”

Centennial Students Use Their Passions to Make a Difference

Words: Maryam Elhabashy

“We feel that although art is used for portfolios and personal development, it is seldom used to directly help those who are less fortunate in our community. It’s nice to create art, but it’s even better to share it and use it to further a cause.”

Those are the words of Daniel Park when asked what the inspiration was behind creating the Howard County High School Art Charity. Mina Sun and Daniel Park, both students attending Centennial High School, initiated the project which created a correlation between art and the community that has never been thought of before.

The charity, known by those involved as HSACC, was created to help high school students around the county do what they love while helping others. The way the program works is that students all over the county can donate their art pieces to art charity collections at their own schools. All the art donations are collected, and then sold at different values and venues. The money that is received via the sale of the pieces will go to the United Way of Central Maryland.

“Their main functions [of the sales] are assisting families who are literally on the brink of becoming homeless and encouraging education among their children,” said Park. Both founders recognize how devastating the loss of a home must be and how detrimental the loss would be to the education and future of the children faced with the circumstances.

When Nan Collins, one of the art instructors of Centennial, was presented with the idea in early April, she was excited and looking forward to getting the project started.

“I was very proud that my students had organized this project that would go to such a noble cause,” said Collins, who wasn’t the only one to be thoroughly affected. The United Way of Central Maryland was “very impressed,” described Collins. “They were very moved that students organized this and chose this organization [to donate to].”

Creating such a project came with hardships, the foremost of them doubt. “We thought that the most difficult part would be receiving enough pieces, and this has proven itself somewhat true due to the recent AP weeks.” Collins added to the list of obstacles saying that it wasn’t particularly easy “figuring out the logistics, how to collect the artwork, convincing students to give up a piece of their artwork…” Collins has been doing what she can to convince her students to enter submissions from their sketchbooks rather than pieces of artwork that they are looking to preserve.

The project has made good progress; however, it isn’t making as much progress as Park would like to be making. “We’ve managed to collect around 40 pieces as of now, but we’re hoping to get some more before the end of the year rolls around,” said Park.

Collins, along with Sun and Park is considering making HSACC a continuous program. “We have initially planned to end the collection in June and sell the pieces all in September, but after recent discussion, we have decided to make the processes of collection and selling a continuous process throughout next year. We hope that this may become a lasting tradition at Centennial.”

Collins is also working to form a small committee within the National Art Honor Society. The only thing holding them back is the lack of time. Collins remarked, “It’s a busy time of the year.”

Despite the crazy schedules that come with the end of the year, there is still plenty of time to enter artwork. For anyone that would like to donate small pieces, there is a folder in the bin by the front of Collins’ room. Larger pieces are to be brought into the room and handed to Collins. For those interested in helping out, contact centralmarylandartfair@gmail.com.

Sun and Park are examples of how simple acts and ideas can make huge differences in society. There is opportunity for everyone everywhere. “If you have a cause,” said Park, “it’s never too early to contribute. It’s not difficult at all to find a charity project and find people who are interested in improving the lives of others as long as you truly believe in the cause that you’re working for.”