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St. Vincent High School

Hat Tip to Ms. Donovan

With few exceptions, reading fiction does nothing for me. Since I know it’s not real, I don’t have motivation to remember it. I sucked at writing stories in school and I didn’t care about the books I read in English class. I read, but I can’t tell you what happened, in Beowulf, Pride and Prejudice, and don’t even ask me about anything Shakespeare wrote unless I’ve seen the movie. (On my bookshelf, I have a copy of Hamlet in Klingon – Shakespearian English on the left and Klingon on the right. I like to say I have a book in two languages, neither of which I can understand.) Looking back, I have no idea why we were ever tested on the “facts” of any story. It would have been much more interesting to use excerpts from books to learn about their historical or cultural significance, or merely tools to learn about literary concepts.

Sometimes going analogue is the only way to go by Tobias Vemmenby from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Sometimes going analogue is the only way to go by Tobias Vemmenby from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

It never crossed my mind that I would ever be a writer – until I was required to take expository writing during my senior year of high school. That was the class that taught me the art of ranting on paper and being a truth-teller (well as least as we knew it as a bunch of 17 year-old kids).

Ms. Donovan taught us that not all writing needed to be academically correct or high-brow impactful. She exposed us to different styles of writing that demonstrated that being raw, direct, and creative was powerful because the writer didn’t get tangled in the minutiae of how he/she wrote and focus on the what message they wanted to convey.

This was the first class I ever took that provided a truly creative platform for my thoughts, where rawness and thoughtful feedback was encouraged. I still remember some of the essays we read, things I wrote, and I’m pretty sure I have some of the notes from my classmates in my memory box.

Taking expository writing challenged me to give a voice to my perspective and values – an undertaking I face every time I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. This was the course that taught me not to worry about being right; just be real. Being a writer is one of the most usable and transferable skills in my arsenal. For the rest of my life, not matter what I do, I hope I can honestly say, “I’m a writer.”

I am thankful that St. Vincent High School made me take this class and I am especially grateful that Ms. Donovan was there to lovingly nurture me (and I hope my classmates) to not only create quality works in her class, but become writers for life.

Ms. Donovan still teaches at St. Vincent High School in Petaluma, CA. I hope her students know how lucky they are to have her.

Hair on Fire | Birthday Memories

Last year for my birthday, I asked my friends to send me stories related to our friendship. I spent my birthday taking a trip down memory lane, reading through all of them. This year, I asked some of my friends if I could share their memories with you.

12 Molar Hydrochloric Acid by maticulous from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

12 Molar Hydrochloric Acid by maticulous from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

This final memory comes from Tavys Ashcroft, one of my classmates from St. Vincent High School. I remember this day from Mr. D’s Honors Chemistry class our junior year. (NEAT STUFF!) It was an experiment that required an acid that was so strong that thick white fumes rose from the bottle when you opened it. Mr. D. selected me to be the one who administered the acid, advising me to hold my breath.

Here’s how Tavys remembers that day:

I think it was 10, maybe 12 molar hydrochloric acid (mid-to-high thirties percent concentration). The kind of acid that could ruin your whole day. There was a story about highly diluted test-tube splatter dissolving pants.  

Only one was to be chosen to dispense this liquid danger. Who among them had the implicit trust of the man at the front of the room?

This was a serious production. Lab coats. Check. Goggles. Check. (Put down your strikers!) Notify all nonessential personnel to vacate the area. Do not reenter the laboratory until the “all clear” is sounded. 

Out came the bottle, a surprisingly large plastic jug. Aitch Cee Ell. The cap only just removed and already a fine mist began to appear. And the clock was ticking.

Bench to bench, beaker to beaker, she carefully administered each allotment.  

Slowly enveloped in a faint fog, the room faded away. Out in the hallway, the wafting swimming pool aroma gave way to burning eyes and tightening throats.

She emerged, lab assistant triumphant. The incongruous wisps from her brow a steaming halo of pride and sublimation.

Was it sugar hydrolysis? Did carbon snakes leap from glassware? I don’t quite recall the purpose of the lab (me neither), but I clearly remember the poison cloud and the smoking hair.

During the experiment, Mr. D. asked if I could smell the chlorine. When I said, “Yes,” he said, “You’re burning your lungs.” I probably damaged all the cilia along my respiratory tract that day. Ah, the sacrifices we make for science.

Memories of Malcolm

Mr. Malcolm and his bowling ball “Edna”

I received the sad news last week that one of my high school science teachers, David Malcolm, died unexpectedly. He was only 68. I’m glad I was able to attend his retirement party a few years ago, especially since I couldn’t attend his memorial service.

I had Mr. Malcolm for Freshman Science and A.P. Physics at St. Vincent High School. He loved his students and he loved teaching. He didn’t just teach science; he also tried to instill life lessons whenever he could. This would occasionally lead to the “Malcolm rant” where it’s best to put your head down and wait for the storm to pass. I seem to remember him often saying “Life’s not fair.” His tests for Freshman Science were challenging, and he made sure we knew that he didn’t give us our grades but we earned them and all the whining from parents wouldn’t change that.

I always called Mr. Malcolm “Malcolm” because that’s how he referred to himself. My locker was right next to Malcolm’s classroom during my senior year. I was usually at my locker as he was heading into his room every morning and I would greet him with an exuberant, “Morning Malcolm!” and he would grumble back, “Morning Miss Carter.” He wasn’t mean; he just wasn’t a morning person. But he was always willing to help me if I had a physics question before school. He cared that we learned the material so he would work with us to figure out an answer instead of just doing the work for us.

I have one unique memory of Malcolm. After the A.P. Chemistry test, we basically got to play around and do cool science stuff for the last three weeks of the year. Malcolm had a Freshman Science class across the hall during the same period as A.P. Chemistry. I remember one morning his classroom door and the chemistry room door were open. I sat on the floor and scooted across the hall until I was sitting in his doorway and watched him teach, at least until he caught me and sent me back. He understood and respected teenage playfulness.

Thanks for the memories Malcolm! I’m sorry we had so little time with you. In your words, “God bless.” Your family is in my thoughts.

 

Photo courtesy of St. Vincent High School

SALK Day 7 – The Ruth-Mr. D Story – Part 5

I think my favorite part of the Ruth-Mr. DeShazer story is the fact that what I learned in his classes has stayed with me.  For the rest of my life, whenever I see a fruit fly I’ll think, “Oooohh…drosophila.”  When I go on vacation and the ocean glows at night, I think, “Oooohh…bioluminescent algae.”  I still celebrate Mole Day every October.  And thanks to Mr. D.’s chemistry class, I will never forget about the dangers of dihyrdogen monoxide.

I opened my senior yearbook last night.  Next to his picture, Mr. D. wrote, “Study Life.  It’s Neat Stuff.”  I’d like to think that that is what I have endeavored to do with my life – always learning and seeking new adventures.  They say law school teaches you how to think.  I think that I was challenged to think critically starting in Mr. D.’s class.

I remember when I told him and my high school friends that I was changing my major from chemistry to psychology.  Everyone thought that I had lost my mind.  I remember Mr. D. had some choice words.  He didn’t want me to throw in the towel just because I was frustrated.  He tried to convince me that I was just going through a rough patch and that it would get better it I stuck with it.  He and my high school friends had not seen me for the previous six months, yelling across the lab every day, “I’m changing my major!”  They couldn’t see how unhappy I was via email.

I knew that there was going to be a backlash from my friends and family.  I knew I needed data to back up my decision so I went to my career services office and took personality tests.  The results showed that I was well suited for science, but that I was also suited for human services.  My love of science had not changed; I just didn’t want to be trapped in a lab all day.  I think everyone calmed down when they saw that I wasn’t giving up my science roots; I’m using them in a different way.

I’m grateful that the DeShazers sponsored my entire first week of Sponsor A Law Kid and gave me the freedom to tell this story.  It’s been a blast for me and my fellow classmates.

Sponsor A Law Kid is my endeavor to pay for my last semester of law school. Today’s sponsors are Darvin and Jane DeShazer. For more information about Sponsor A Law Kid or to see what days are still available for sponsorship, visit my Sponsor A Law Kid page.

SALK Day 6 – The Ruth-Mr.D Story – Part 4

St. Vincent High School has a maximum capacity of about 400 students.  It was common for people to end up in the same classes together.  I took study hall every year except for my freshman year, and I needed it.  I had gymnastics practice every day after school for three hours, and so my study hall gave me a chance to crank through some homework during the day.

On my first day of senior year, I walked into my study hall and saw that the class was bigger than my previous study halls and it was full of the closest thing St. Vincent had to dumb jocks and obnoxious cheerleaders.  I thought, “Oh no, this is not going to work.”  While I sat through class, I recalled that Mr. DeShazer had a teacher’s assistant when I was in sophomore biology.  At the end of class, I made a beeline to his classroom and said, “Please tell me you need a TA for seventh period.”  I was so grateful when he said, “Yes.”

So instead of spending my senior year study hall fuming in a loud library, I had the quiet science lab to myself.  I graded Mr. D.’s sophomore biology tests and their labs, I got my homework done, and I took advantage of having huge white boards to work on.  As a bonus, I got quality time with Mr. D.  I don’t remember much about what we talked about, but I remember he was a sounding board for whatever was on my mind.

Mr. D. struggled with his sophomores while I was his TA.  Many of them did not seem to care enough to study, and thus, they had very low test scores.  I began to understand Mr. D.’s passion for teaching and his frustration when his usual tactics did not work.  Biology was a challenging class, but he made it as entertaining and accessible as possible.  He even put his old tests on the bulletin board outside his room so students could see what they had to learn.  Even when Mr. D. gave his students the easiest versions of the tests he had (i.e., all multiple choice or matching questions), some of them still struggled and were at risk of not passing the course.  I watched him in anguish, trying to think of what more he could do to help these students learn biology.  I remember that I didn’t care what students got on their tests; it was just my job to grade them.  But Mr. D. cared deeply that his students did well, not because it was a reflection on him, but because it was important to him that they learned about things that actually would be useful to know later on in life.

At the end of my senior year, I was very touched by a gift Mr. D. gave me as a thank you for being his diligent TA for the year – a Cross pen that he engraved himself.  I remember my jaw dropped when I saw how much time he had to have taken to carefully carve the letters into the pen.  I still have it and use it when I have something important to sign.

Click here for Part 5 of the Ruth-Mr. D Story, the last blog dedicated to the Ruth-Mr. D story.

Sponsor A Law Kid is my endeavor to pay for my last semester of law school. Today’s sponsors are Darvin and Jane DeShazer. For more information about Sponsor A Law Kid or to see what days are still available for sponsorship, visit my Sponsor A Law Kid page.

SALK Day 5 – The Ruth-Mr. D Story – Part 3

My classmates and I who took all the advanced science classes at St. Vincent High School had Mr. DeShazer twice a day during our junior year for Advanced Placement Biology and Honors Chemistry.  They were some of my hardest classes but also my most enjoyable classes.  My classmates and I have been reminiscing about high school memories the last few days…

Chemicals in flasks (including Ammonium hydrox...
Image via Wikipedia

The ceiling of Mr. DeShazer’s classroom had what appeared to be circular burn marks on it.  As sophomores we had no idea why they were there.  As honors chemistry students, we learned that they were created by bubbles that we ignited.  Neat Stuff!!

Before every chemistry lab, we had to write out the procedure, including a section about safety precautions.  Since this was a high school lab, this usually meant “Wear your goggles” and “Be careful when working with acid.”  Somehow we got into the habit of adding safety reminders like “Don’t chew glass.”  Mr. D. went along with it as long as we had the real information in there too.  I think he was entertained by us and joined in our lightheartedness as long as we were serious about the science.

The school created a more restrictive dress code while we were students.  Our rebellious response was to follow the dress code but to wear the most outrageous things we could.  One day my friend BJ walked into class wearing a neon orange reflective safety vest over his shirt.  Without skipping a beat, Mr. D. said, “I see BJ was out directing traffic this morning,” and went on with the class.  It was hilarious because he understood what we were doing.

Sesame Street is doing something right by connecting learning to music.  Mr. D. is doing the same thing.  When we were learning about the ideal gas law, he played a song for us about it: “talkin’ heavy duty chemistry…we’re talkin’ PV=nRT!”  My classmates and I have not heard this song for 16 years, but we still remember it.

I have never met the great Mrs. D.  She must be a wonderful woman because she puts up with the great Mr. D. and she made us mini muffins on the day of the national A.P. Biology test – a four-hour exam that determined whether we got college credit for taking the class.  She knew it was a big deal and did what she could to help us.

Mr. D. had a strict rule about no food in the lab, except for one day a year.  At the end of junior year, after the A.P. Biology test, Mr. D. chili cheese omelets with wild cantrell mushrooms and bagels with truffle butter for his A.P. Bio students.  A.P. Biology was one of the most work-intensive classes I took in high school.  We had a test about every three days, and he pushed us hard to prepare for that test.  I think the end of the year breakfast was a congratulations/thank you celebration.

If any other St. Vincent graduates want to share their DeShazer experiences, please let them as comments.

Click here for Part 4 of the Ruth-Mr. D Story.

Sponsor A Law Kid is my endeavor to pay for my last semester of law school. Today’s sponsors are Darvin and Jane DeShazer. For more information about Sponsor A Law Kid or to see what days are still available for sponsorship, visit my Sponsor A Law Kid page.

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SALK Day 4 – The Ruth-Mr. D Story – Part 2

Every student at St. Vincent High School gets to have The Mr. D. Experience in sophomore biology.  One thing that I have come to appreciate about Mr. D. is his enthusiasm.  He will do whatever it takes to help a student love science, or at least learn it.  Mr. D. wore these ugly red-brown shoes just so he could be on his feet, jumping around, all day without being in pain.  He said the wackiest things in class.  One year, students kept track of these DeShazerisms for two weeks and published them in the school newspaper.  I wish I had kept that issue.  I don’t remember what was on the list, but I remember laughing very hard.

MAGIA EN HYDRODICTYON
Image by PROYECTO AGUA** /** WATER PROJECT via Flickr

One thing every student gets out of his class is a strong feeling about the Latin language – either an appreciation for it or complete disdain.  I remember when we were learning about the different types of algae.  He would put a species name on the overhead and cold call on people to try to translate it out of the Latin.  Every time he did this, I would cringe and pray that he wouldn’t call on me, kind of like the way I cringed and cowered in Professor Clinton’s Constitutional Law class my 1L year.  I now realize that he didn’t expect us to know the answer, but he wanted us to try.  As the year progressed, we learned a handful of Latin word roots: hydro = water, philic = loves, phobic = fears, chloro = green, rhodo = red, etc.  They were useful to know while I was studying vocabulary for the GRE and still come in handy with random legal terms.

I remember one day he put up a species name and said, “Ruuuuth, would you like to translate out of the Latin?” I honestly answered, “No.”  I think he was surprised by my response but realized that he asked a question instead of give a direction.  He turned to my friend sitting next to me and said, “BJ, you’re her lab partner.  You translate it out of the Latin.”  I never tortured my lab partner like that again.

Looking back on my biology class, I remember doing a lot of labs.  It wasn’t enough for us to talk about science; Mr. D. wanted us to do science.  Given that he had four full classes of sophomores every day, and only 45 minutes per class, that was quite an undertaking.  I’m sure he went home exhausted those days.  We did a lot of work with the microscopes – creating and looking at slides.  We dissected worms, grasshoppers, and frogs.  I remember when we were studying bacteria, each student was given the task of growing bacteria from a different source.  I grew the bacteria that was on the top of my shoe and my lab partner BJ grew the bacteria from the bottom of his shoe.  Neat Stuff!!

Click here for Part 3 of the Ruth-Mr. D Story.

Sponsor A Law Kid is my endeavor to pay for my last semester of law school. Today’s sponsors are Darvin and Jane DeShazer. For more information about Sponsor A Law Kid or to see what days are still available for sponsorship, visit my Sponsor A Law Kid page.

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SALK Day 3 – The Ruth-Mr. D Story – Part 1

When I launched Sponsor A Law Kid, Darvin and Jane DeShazer were among my first sponsors and they asked to sponsor my entire first week.  After my blog about Mr. D the mushroom master, they said I could write about whatever I wanted.  I decided to take the next few days to share part of the Ruth-Mr. D story.  I’m not sure he remembers our first conversation.

Iguana iguana close up small
Image via Wikipedia

Mr. D teaches sophomore biology and AP biology at St. Vincent High School.  One of his rules is you can earn extra credit in his biology class by keeping a plant or animal alive in the classroom.  When I was a freshman, my sister was in his biology class and kept an iguana named Gomer in his classroom.  Gomer needed fresh food and water every day and he came home on the weekends.  It was common for me to take him out of his terrarium and place him on my shoulder.  Sometimes he would jump from my shoulder to Mom’s and scare the bejuzus out of her – kind of like this guy.

One morning my sister was sick, and she asked me feed Gomer for her.  I had never been in Mr. D’s classroom before.  His room was intimidating to a small freshman like me.  Not only was it at the far end of the senior hallway, it was one of the biggest classrooms in the school with tall heavy lab tables instead of traditional desks.

I entered Mr. D’s room shyly and saw Gomer in his terrarium.  My fear evaporated as I opened the top to change his food and water.  Mr. D was back in his prep area and didn’t really see me come in.  I called out, “Is it ok if I take him out?”  By the time Mr. D looked up to see (1) who this unfamiliar voice belonged to, and (2) what she was talking about, I had picked Gomer up and placed him on my shoulder.

Mr. D seemed surprised by my presence in his classroom.  He asked,”Does that belong to you?”  I explained that Gomer was my sister’s and that I was feeding him in her absence.  I was lucky that my sister was one of the smartest kids in his class, so her reputation proceeded me.  I think he thought that was a precocious freshman who didn’t know that he had a rule against taking pets out of their cages at school.

I think he came to appreciate my bold nature when he had me as a student for the following three years.   He was probably glad when I was a sophomore that Mom decided that it was better for me to have a cactus instead of an animal for extra credit.

Click here for Part 2 of the Ruth-Mr. D story.

Sponsor A Law Kid is my endeavor to pay for my last semester of law school. Today’s sponsors are Darvin and Jane DeShazer. For more information about Sponsor A Law Kid or to see what days are still available for sponsorship, visit my Sponsor A Law Kid page.

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