Magazine News Volume 70, Issue 8

Wellness Center Activities

By Ally Hoogs

Graphic By Jane Wilson

Throughout the year, the Wellness Center has held various webinars and talks, and offered opportunities for students to access mental health resources for students on and off campus. Some events take place on  Zoom or there are sign-ups for confidential counseling during lunch. These activities are promoted on the school website and in the weekly email sent out by Principal Benson. 

Wellness Coordinator Amelia Whalen explained that through these opportunities, students can connect through “mindfulness workshops, cooking classes, and other activities.” The Wellness Center is working hard to provide a safe space for student support, counseling, and mental health education. 

Sophomore Grayson Wylie mentioned that although he did not participate in any wellness activities, “From the way it has been advertised it seems as though it is well-coordinated and easily accessible.”

Others, however, find themselves struggling more. A Las Lomas student, wishing to remain anonymous, said that “it made everything worse” once they were sent to the hospital to receive further help apart from the wellness center.

In a survey of eight students, seven agreed that the activities are helpful for those who participate. Six agreed that planning could be better with more promotion on social media such as Instagram and via the leadership class. One student added, “There could either be more events or better advertising. From my perspective, the majority of the student body is unaware of the opportunities for wellness activities.”  In the survey, many other students also explained that they have not heard a lot about these activities, and did not know events were planned for the student body. 

During the year, the Wellness Center has served more than 250 students so far, and is always available to support all students in times of need. If you are in need of counseling or mental health resources, visit the Las Lomas Wellness Center on the school’s homepage and fill out a google form through Ms. Whalen.

Features Magazine Volume 70, Issue 7

Student Forum: Black Excellence and Hardship

By Ally Hoogs

Diversify Our Narrative, a Las Lomas club, has started a monthly student forum streamed via youtube to bring the thoughts and feelings of student panelists out into the community. The idea behind this forum is to foster good conversations between students in the district on the lack of diversity and representation in the curriculum. These forums started in February, bringing in students from all over the district to converse on the central topic of that month’s inclusivity discussion. The forum is moderated by student members of Diversify Our Narrative and can include district teachers who wish to share their experiences as well. 

February’s forum, the first of the planned monthly discussions, talked about Black Excellence and Hardship. The topic brought in the voices and experiences of Black students in the district and began direct conversations about privilege, racism, and what being Black personally means to black students and teachers. Diversify Our Narrative members Sara Valbuena and Dina Mirmotalebisohi, both Las Lomas students, moderated the conversation. All quotes in this article are from the panelists and taken during the discussion.

One of the first topics panelists were asked was their opinions on the idea of Black Excellence and how those ideas have impacted panelists personally. Acalanes Center for Independent Study (ACIS) teacher Therron Adams started by saying, “The amount of pressure that you have to be great is so overwhelming, where it almost crushes you. So if you’re only good, then that’s not great, and that’s my issue with Black Excellence.” He emphasized, “It’s okay to be good, it’s okay to be okay. It’s okay to be you, and go at the rate at which you progress and you can make yourself a better person.”

Las Lomas junior Nick Alfred explained his view on the idea as well: “Black excellence means to me that it demonstrates prowess under the influence of bias and prejudice on individuals with Black skin.” He mentioned, “I’m a strong advocate of representing Black excellence in history, especially because it shouldn’t always be just hardships, hardships, hardships. That’s the danger of the single story, developing the notion that all the Black people did was just be the victim. Examples of excellence must always be shown.”

When the panelists were later asked about the media’s portrayal of Black people, Alfred added, “With especially Black boys: they’re often perceived as intimidating or aggressive and I’d like to put emphasis on the intimidating part. You have to be really welcoming sometimes just to get somebody to shake your hand.”

Another question asked was what it is like being in a predominantly white school and how it has affected their mental health and experiences. Miramonte senior Zion Mayo explained, “Making a mental shift into a more digestible persona to fit in became very draining.” Las Lomas junior Gabrielle Alfred added to the discussion her experience in Walnut Creek, “I remember one time in sixth grade I was at that point where I was assimilated because of having grown up in a mostly white area. I thought that if I bathed in cold water I would turn white or that I was dirty because I was Black.” She continues to recall, “I would put my hair under hot water to try and make it straight. I assimilated but then there would be microaggressions that would make me realize that I was different.”

The media’s portrayal of Black people also brought up the discussion of the standards of beauty they are held to. Haloniee Dangerfield, a Las Lomas sophomore, described, “I thought that I wasn’t the beauty standard for a lot of people. I was not happy with myself at all.” She mentioned that hurtful stereotypes, standards, and the portrayal of Black people in the media are harmful to both her self-esteem and how Black people are viewed as a whole. She commented, “[Some] stereotypes against Black people in every single movie I’ve seen is that Black people have to have all these hardships and have to be broke and living in the hood. I think the stuff that we put out in the media does create stereotypes and has affected how I’ve viewed myself.”

Mirmotalebisohi explained that the discussions “provide a protected platform for students to share out on experiences they may not have been given the chance to do so beforehand,” or topics that have been ignored “and be completely insensitive towards… students as well as faculty members.” Mirmotalebisohi added that the forums are good ways to incite change and force people to go out of their comfort zones to make large-scale changes to school campuses and the curriculum.

Diversify Our Narrative member and senior, Mia Hanson, describes that the club aims to better represent BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), LGBTQ+ communities, and people with disabilities in our schools’ curriculums through adding more inclusive textbooks and planning school events like the forums.

Issue 5 Magazine News

Food Drives During Covid

By Ally Hoogs

The pandemic has ravaged many communities, forcing people out of their jobs and homes while bills keep rolling in, demanding to get paid. With businesses closing, many people cannot afford to feed themselves or their families, leaving them more reliant than ever on life-saving food services until they can get back on their feet. The Las Lomas community and Contra Costa County Food Banks have helped many by planning many food drives throughout the pandemic through virtual and socially distanced donations.

Leadership teacher Marlene Miranda mentioned that during these drives, she has noticed that “there is a bigger need because people are out of work and need food while others are donating less” than in previous years. The gap is so drastic that the Contra Costa Food Bank preferred financial donations instead of food to supplement the small turnout of donations caused by the pandemic. 

Co-Presidents of the Las Lomas Helping Hands Club, Natalie Mangani and Allison Quan, are experiencing the same trend. Mangani explained that she found it more difficult to “raise food during the pandemic because we [the club] had to find a contactless way to pick up and drop off food, as well as informing people about the drive.” Quan then explained that despite the difficulties, the club felt “a stronger desire in planning a food drive for our community,” due to the growing demand. She mentioned that they could have gotten more donations if there wasn’t a pandemic, but both presidents are very proud that the club coordinated and raised 28 bags of food to get donated to the CCC Food Bank. 

Last month, Las Lomas Leadership also hosted a toiletries drive for the Women’s Daytime Drop-In Center. But, according to Miranda, “it wasn’t too well attended” either. She further explained that “there have been fewer drives in general because we [Las Lomas] are on full distance learning,” but they continue to push through with more events planned that benefit the community.

Contra Costa County Food Drive administrator Neil Zarchin noted that they usually hold around 85 ongoing drives in a year, but in 2020 only held 45, along with 120 fall/winter drives. Zarchin reported that “In 2019, we [CCC Food Bank] received 1,206,315 pounds of food through food drives. In 2020 that number was down to 728,778 pounds.” He also mentioned the growing demand for donations by explaining that while they serve 100,000 people each month in Contra Costa and Solano, their food distribution has expected to increase from 21,000,000 pounds to 40,000,000 pounds. 

White Pony Express in Contra Costa is also facing a difficult situation in obtaining food donations from grocery stores, restaurants, catering companies and markets to distribute them to residential facilities, schools, community shelters and kitchens throughout the county. Representative Mandy Nakaya noted that “Since COVID-19, more food donations are currently needed in our community,” and during the pandemic, it is much harder to do so. However, it still managed to rescue 15,000 pounds of food per day through their rescue program.

Features Magazine News Volume 70, Issue 4

Hybrid Q&A

By Ally Hoogs

Graphic By Lizzie Flores

The AUHSD school board voted in favor of the hybrid schedule, which is set to take place when the school is able to open by state regulations. In order to prepare students for the change, Las Lomas principal Tiffany Benson has held multiple student and parent forums. These forums were designed to help LL families understand how the new semester will work. These meetings took place over Zoom on a weekly basis, scheduled between the months when families would decide whether to remain in distance learning or go into hybrid learning. Parent meetings were held in the mornings, and student forums would occur at noon on Mondays or in the evening. 

Benson commented that “The decision on whether students are going to come back for the hybrid or going to stay distance is really important,” further saying that it’s going to be “the basis for their entire second semester of school.” She wanted to make sure that families were given the opportunity to be educated about further plans, as well as the opportunity to ask questions before they make their final decision.

The Zoom sessions explained the planning process regarding county guidelines and the planning process of the master schedule; these were described by Principal Benson as the “basic ideas of the hybrid model.” After information was given, the meetings were guided through specific questions the audience had brought up. 

Associate Principal Jazmin Hernandez commented that these meetings help students “process the messages that the district sends,” since they can “contain so much information that it needs [additional] processing,” which can be supplemented by the forum. She believes that being able to hear the response from students will aid understanding and help families make informed decisions that best fit their needs.

Features Magazine News Volume 69, Issue 8

Week 4 of Quarantine: A Check-In On Mental Health

Graphic by Christy Knudson

All students and teachers at Las Lomas are affected by the lockdowns being put into place all over the country, especially their mental health amidst being locked in their houses for weeks on end.

At first, most responses to an anonymous poll sent out last week noted that people do not know how to feel, causing a multitude of stress in their daily lives. Changing their schedules and adapting to a new home-bound life is affecting the mental health of the students immensely, as now time bleeds away while sitting inside. 

Compared to their mental health at week one, some LL students and teachers explained that they have been less stressed after “adapt[ing] to the changes and the shelter-in-place order,” according to a Las Lomas scholar, while other’s mental health have only gotten worse over time. A student wrote that “Now that we have all this free time, I don’t know what to do with it. It makes me feel crazy sitting at home all the time, the days don’t mean anything anymore, they all just feel the same.” 

Others don’t even know what to think at all. There are so many responses and feelings, varying from teachers stressed by the workload to students thankful for less work, and people lost in the changing world. An LL teacher said “The first week I felt more antsy and anxious…there were so many unknowns,” however, another instructor noted that, “I’m coping with the changes better now than I was during week one, mainly because I have learned many new skills to help me teach from a distance. Also, knowing that social distancing is making a difference (particularly in California) makes me feel more hopeful that we will make it through this time.”

However, the teacher still wrote that “it’s been so long since I’ve had real interactions with people or been anywhere for fun that it’s making me feel down,” which is one of the main reasons for most of the mental health deteriorations from week one to week four. 

Intense news and lack of movement have led to depressive episodes for some, on top of not being able to see peers during the quarantine.

“It feels like we’re trapped and my mental state has gotten worse not being able to see friends,” wrote one student. They, along with many others at Las Lomas, feel this way one way or another. 

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. LLHS Wellness Intake Specialist Elizabeth King McCormick announced this week a new plan to help students cope with the stress of online schooling, and quarantine as a whole. This new help line enables students “to access support services as we shelter in place…[by] offering confidential one-on-one ‘check ins’ every school day between 11:15 and noon. These sessions…will provide students with a safe space to access resources, practice coping skills and stress-management techniques, or self-refer to a support counselor,” as McCormick wrote, in hopes of sparking wellness through the minds of Las Lomas students.