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Curious Minds - Student Voices

Student Voices


The first day of school last fall, I really didn’t think I was going to make it through the door. I still remember the big letters across the scaffolding, spelling out the dreaded words Mayo High School. They may as well have been spelling out my death warrant. Terrified, I tried to calm my panicked and racing mind, which was racked with questions: What if I can’t handle this? Maybe I shouldn’t have taken as many advanced courses. What if I don’t do well? What if all of my teachers hate me? What if all of the kids hate me? 


Now, almost three-quarters of the way through freshman year, I’m not sure why I was so worried. The questions that I had so desperately obsessed over immediately began to disappear. Within the first few seconds of math class that day, I heard the best seven words ever: “Hey, aren’t you on the cross-country team?” Spinning around, I was greeted by a kid I vaguely recognized from cross-country practice the week before. I smiled back, about to reply, when the teacher walked into the room and began passing out the course syllabus. This simple packet—which included information on assignments, test dates, classroom rules and procedures, and where to go for help—calmed me. 


Throughout the rest of that first day and the days that followed, I discovered that most of my teachers were tough, but fair, and that most of the kids were friendly. But what really amaze me was that, unlike what I had experienced in middle school, excelling at one’s studies was deemed a positive, rather then a negative, by most of the student body. Not one person in any of my classes, many of which were geared toward older students, asked me why I was there. Instead, they said that they were impressed that I was there. 


Read more: High School: A Million Times Better than Middle School!


Animal Farm is a fictitious story written by George Orwell published in the UK in 1945 and in the US in 1946. It was originally called Animal Farm: A Fairy Story. Its plot is meant to represent the Russian Revolution, and its characters represent real people. For example, Napoleon the pig is based on Joseph Stalin, Snowball the pig represents Leon Trotsky, and Mr. Jones the farmer represents Tsar Nicholas II.


The story begins with Old Major, an aging and well-respected pig, calling all the animals of Manor Farm to a meeting. There he explains his grand idea of a rebellion against humankind, and teaches the animals a song called “Beasts of England.” The meeting closes, and Old Major dies a few days later.


However, as a result of the meeting, Snowball and Napoleon take control of the farm. Along with the rest of the animals, they drive a very drunk Mr. Jones and his wife off the farm, and rename it Animal Farm. The animals immediately begin to harvest the wheat, and achieve a more plentiful harvest in a few days than Jones and his men ever had. The farm runs smoothly for a while.


Then Snowball, being a clever pig, formulates an idea for a windmill. This, he says, will provide the animals with hot and cold running water in every stall, electricity, and a three-day workweek. Napoleon disagrees, saying that the windmill will never work, and the farm animals become divided over the issue.

Read more: Animal Farm: A Book Review


I believe that as youth, we hold the greatest power to create change in our world. And so when I found out that 90% of students in grades 4-8 worldwide have either witnessed or experienced bullying in school, I decided to create an anti-bullying camp called Step Up Against Bullying and Violence to reduce that number in my own community. 

The idea stemmed from my own experiences. When I was younger, my family moved from India to Helena, Montana, where we were one of the few Indian families. After the 9/11 attacks, people acted out toward us and the other Indian families because they thought we were somehow affiliated with the tragedy. Through their words and actions they told us, “Go back to your country; we don’t want you here.”

The Indian community set up a booth at the annual fair to educate others about Indian culture and tradition, and to show that we came in peace. We sold Indian food, tied saris, and taught festive songs and dances to everyone who stopped by. By the end of the day, we had raised over $1,000, which we donated to the public schools. The most important lesson I took away from that experience was this: People need to be educated in order to make good decisions. Since people in Helena weren’t completely aware of our culture, they had simply judged us based on our appearance.

Tara Serebin, executive director of the Milwaukee Peace Learning Center, became my project advisor; she took me to one of the organization’s peace camps so I could experience an event similar to the one I was planning. I also attended the Youth Peace Conference in Arizona last summer, where I presented my project to more than 40 youth ambassadors from around the world and received suggestions I incorporated into my camp.

Read more: WCATY Student Runs Anti-Bullying Camp


Throughout my school years, teachers have noticed that I am bright and that schoolwork comes easily to me. In third grade, the gifted and talented teacher did some testing and confirmed that I was more than just smart. The test qualified me for the gifted and talented program at school.


Sometimes I find that I have to talk about being gifted, and I’ve always been cautious when talking about this particular subject. The first thing that I think of is who I’m with: If I’m with my friends, I try to keep it to a minimum because they already know I’m intelligent. They don’t need to be reminded. If I’m with people I don’t know very well, I try not to talk about it at all. They may notice in class or in our conversations, but I don’t bring it up. If teachers asked me to explain how I’m gifted, I just go ahead and talk about it.


One tip that might come in handy when you’re talking about being gifted is to be indirect. Say you know a bit about the subject. Say you took a class or read a book on it once. Just don’t go around saying, “I’m gifted,” or people will think you are just another bragger. Try to steer the conversation to subjects that you know they know a lot about. Then, they can feel good about themselves and you don’t have to sound like a know-it-all. 

Read more: How to Talk About Being Gifted Without Sounding Like a Bragger


During seventh grade, I visited the Wisconsin Historical Society with my WCATY class to research family immigration stories. While there, I managed to find records of a few of my ancestors who immigrated to America in 1880 from Germany. Ancestry has been a hobby I share with my mom, and I have been doing ancestry projects with 4-H for the past five years.


With additional research online and at the Historical Society, I discovered something unexpected in my family tree: That my sixth great-grandfather, Ludwig Albrecht Wilhelm Ilgen, was a Hessian soldier who fought for the British during the American Revolution.


Initially, I was disappointed to learn that I had an ancestor who fought for the British. This was especially unsettling to me because in many American history books Hessian soldiers are depicted as cold mercenaries. I didn’t want an ancestor who had been paid to hurt people! Then, I learned that Ludwig had been kidnapped at the age of 19 while living in Germany and had been forced into the 1st Company of the Anspach Jaeger Battalion. He arrived in New York in the summer of 1779. But Ludwig didn’t fight for the British for long. By August 9, 1779, he had deserted. 

Read more: Genealogy Project Brings History Alive