Fourteen thousand three hundred acres of forested area destroyed. Five hundred nine homes turned to nothing more than ash and rubble. Two lives consumed by smoke. It is still hard to believe that, just over thirteen months ago, the first spark of the Black Forest fire ignited. The flames may have only raged for nine days, but the impacts it left will remain for years to come, not merely due to the fields upon fields of smoky tree limbs it left in its wake, or the barren earth it helped to reveal. Not even because of the hordes of homes it brought to the ground. The impact goes much deeper than the visible–the smoky plume that licked the sky for days inexplicably changed every life involved. Mine included.

4302-black-forest-fire-coloradoJune 11th had started like any other day. It was summer, so I was free to do as I pleased. At around noon, my younger sister, Jess, and I decided to go out for a walk. Being summer, the bees were buzzing, the trees around me were a vibrant green, and the sky was a cloudless blue–so deeply blue, I remember. As I walked through this summer paradise, Jess was next to me talking about something, I don’t recall what.

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Lately, my two older twin sisters have been busy packing their entire lives into boxes and suitcases. Deciding what to take, what to leave, what to completely toss. They’ve purchased twin XL sheets and comforters, coffee pots, laptop ports and keyboards. This can only mean one thing: college. And that’s exactly what it is; in just one week’s time, my sisters will be leaving the only life they’ve ever known to begin a new one.

Right now, the stress the next few months will bring on hasn’t sunk in yet. The tests and crammed study sessions are simply a far off worry at this point. Right now, they are much more eager beavers than worried warts. For good reason, too. For the first time in their lives, they won’t have our parents there every day prodding and questioning at the dinner table. They will be surrounded by people their age 24-7. They will be able to make their own decisions on their own schedule. It is a whole new chapter for them.

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Heading into my final year of high school, I realize I have much to look forward to. I’ll be (hopefully) passing my driver’s test in a week and, in addition, have my own car for the year. I’ll be taking many anticipated, higher-level courses that I’ve been thinking about since I was a freshman. I’ll be a leader in many of the clubs and activities I’ve been in for the last three years. Yet, despite all these grand new beginnings to kick off my new year, I know that there is also one grand ending: summer reading.

Having taking honors/AP English for all four years, a part of my summer has always belonged to the written word. Though there are novels I willingly pick up on my own when the warm months roll in, I can’t attest to having always been enthralled by the books handpicked for me. When I first heard about summer reading from my twin sisters, who were just heading into ninth grade at the time, I was appalled. Isn’t summertime designed for children to relax? I argued. To take a break from books and education? Of course, I’d watched movies with characters that had summer reading and even, ironically, read books with this same act of atrocity. But I never thought that I, a measly eighth-grader, would have to suffer through it. It wasn’t even that I hated the idea of reading; as I stated before, I willingly pick up books, quite often in fact. It was more the idea that I would have to read a book that someone else wanted me to read. It was the idea that I couldn’t choose what I wanted to read.

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What better way to launch the library of the future than with Star Wars characters and a robot ribbon-cutter at the opening ceremony?

The aptly named 21st century Library recently made its grand debut in Colorado Springs on June 23rd. Nicknamed the “library of the future”, this contemporary’ athenaeum boasts sewing machines, 3D printers, and sophisticated computers. Not to disregard the written word, 21c Library has also laid claim to hundreds of fresh new books for curious minds—many more than the closed Briargate branch 21c was upgraded from. Having personally been inside the spacious new building, I can attest to the glowing modernization.

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App: Lumosity Mobile
Cost: Free with subscription available
Platform: iOS 5.1 or later

Lumosity Mobile logoEver think that your brain needs an extra boost? Maybe you took a recent vocabulary test and realized your focus was lacking; maybe you would like to improve your attention. The brain training app recently released by Lumos Labs, Inc. can help you to achieve this.

Before beginning, you must first set up an account through Lumosity. During this account setup, you will be asked what certain areas you would like to improve: multitasking abilities? Better memory? Based on your answers the app will create a “brain workout” for you—one that you can specifically coordinate to your schedule. For example, if you only have spare time on the weekends, you can make your Lumosity app brain training schedule fit your weekend schedule. After the account setup, you can manage your brain workout schedule in the main menu under “Reminders.” You can set the days of the week and even the time for when you would like to train your brain.
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As a teenager, I often receive the label of unable: unable to make a difference; unable to make an impact; unable to make important decisions. Yet when I see two teenage girls start a non-profit organization dedicated to developing robotics programs in their community and beyond, I know the unable labels are wrong.

Stumbling across Robot Springboard was somewhat of an accident: I was actually looking into starting a non-profit organization of my own geared towards robotics community service. When I found their startlingly professional and passionate website, I knew my plans were about to change. Rather than founding a similar foundation of my own, I decided to reach out to junior fraternal twins Hannah and Rachael Tipperman and join forces with them.

Yet the Tipperman twins haven’t needed much help so far. Robot Springboard has been underway for over three years now, starting off in the summer between their ninth and tenth grade year. Most young people at this age are spending summer days lazing about in the sun by a pool but not Hannah and Rachael. In just thirty-six short months, these two ladies have managed to transform a simple idea into a fully functional non-profit organization. In 2013, the Tippermans launched a week-long robotics workshop for middle-school girls at Drexel University. After receiving an AspireIT grant from The National Center for Women and Information Technology, Hannah and Rachael contacted the computer science head at Drexel University. To their delight, the entire engineering department at Drexel was ecstatic at the idea. Within a few weeks, the camp was successfully launched.

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I look at my inbox and click on the new mail that has arrived from my high school. What must this be regarding? I wonder. The page flashes open and, before I even read the whole email, I immediately see three letters strung together, three simple little letters that I have been dreading for months: ACT.

The ACT—American College Test—and the SAT—Scholastic Assessment Test—are the two tests juniors across the nation will be taking in the coming months. If you’re not breaking out the number two pencils and heading to learning seminars, adding more study time onto that already busy schedule and familiarizing yourself with the exams, you should be. It is, after all, the single most important test you will ever take in your life.


Aren’t these standardized tests more important than any other English essay you’ve ever written, than any other difficult mathematics test you’ve seen? Don’t all adults look back on their years and see this test as the single turning point in their whole life?

My guess is most adults will say filling in the right bubbles had no significant impact on where they stand now. That’s not to say all juniors should push the ACT and SAT to the side and head to the movie theater instead. There is no doubt that these assessments play a key role in being accepted to college; nearly every university website asks for scores in their admission guidelines.
But how important are these scores? I have a senior friend who scored a 34 on the ACT early in her junior year; come fall, she applied to Stanford, sending in a résumé that had impressive accomplishments beyond that high score. Two months later, she received a rejection letter in the mail. Another colleague of mine, who also applied to the great halls of Stanford, procured a scored of 720 on the mathematics subject test and received that very same rejection letter in the mail. An MIT application with an 800 in mathematics, a 33 on the ACT, and all the required leadership and extracurricular activities was deferred.

Why is that? Why is it that when someone makes a perfect score on these tests, the ones we hold in such high regard, they are still deferred? I heard through the grapevine at my high school that a senior was accepted into Yale based off of superior gymnastics skills—not her academics, not her GPA, and not even her standardized test scores. She was simply exceptionally good at something. With thousands of students taking exams every year, and hundreds meanwhile scoring well, is making high marks exceptional anymore? Are the applications pouring into the doors at Harvard and Stanford and Yale all riddled with 36’s and 2800’s?

It’s hard to see why they wouldn’t be (and they aren’t). The ACT and SAT are designed for all juniors across the nation to take—meaning they aren’t of the highest caliber. Sure, there are difficult questions dotted throughout the test, but it is, after all, standardized. Students with brains will have no trouble obtaining a score in the thirties. Take, for example, that MIT applicant. Sixty minutes are allotted for the math section of the ACT, and she finished the entire test with thirty minutes to spare. I recently took a practice test of my own, and the writing portion felt like a joke only I was in on. While there are kids who find the test exceedingly difficult and get scores in the low 20’s, even in the teens, a large portion of the population—those being the ones that apply to the top schools—will get these scores. Making scoring high unexceptional.

Why than do juniors continue to pour sweat and blood into these tests?

Easy: scholarships. Both of my sisters received scholarships based on their high school GPAs and test scores; in fact, many universities boast financial aid directly related to a set GPA and score. Not everyone is planning on heading to the Ivy Leagues, and that’s why the pores start working and the veins start pumping when those three little letters are strung together. But even if it isn’t Ivy League, I still question why such high emphasis is placed on these two tests. Why such weight is positioned on English, mathematics, reading, and science when there are careers with such vaster fields. Why a scholarship is awarded for knowing the rules of grammar and logarithms rather than a greater accomplishment.

I haven’t figured out the answer to these questions, and I probably never will. Instead, I’ll take these standardized tests like all the other juniors and I’ll study hard. But as I do so, I’ll remember this: it is only a test. It is not the sole deciding factor in your future. It cannot gage your creativity or your character, your full talent or all of your smarts. Getting a perfect score will not make you perfect, and it certainly won’t guarantee a perfect future.

I was struck recently when I walked into a WalMart store and saw a group of trees aligned in a neat little row. It wasn’t the trees themselves that grabbed me, but what the trees represented: Christmas. All of the sparkling lights wrapped around their limbs; the shelves of baroque ornaments beside them; the glowing, backyard reindeer and the blow-up Santa Claus – they all represented one religion and one religion only.


As a celebrator myself, I really haven’t questioned Christmas decorations before. They have been a permanent part of December shelves my entire life. The weighted preference for Christmas shows up essentially everywhere in my life: at school, signs for “Merry Christmas” are hung rather than “Happy Holidays”; kids are asked what they want from Santa for the daycare I volunteer at; nearly every commercialized product – movies, TV commercials, even TV networks – show Christmas bias. And with nearly everything catered to the holiday I celebrate, why should I have any reason to balk at an ordinary line of Christmas trees?

The balking started when I placed myself in the shoes of a Hanukah or Kwanza celebrator. Read More →

There is a recipe for success. It is top-secret, completely secure … and entirely hidden from prying human eyes. Even those that have made it all the way to the top can’t express in words exactly how they’ve turned straw into gold. How they’ve turned an apartment-based operation into a multi-million dollar company. How they’ve turned a simple idea into an icon. Or even how they’ve gone from secretary to CEO. They can guess. They can assume. They can ponder. But no one knows this recipe, the ingredients involved, or the directions for preparation.

Beyond the super minds of the world like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, or the movie stars like Reese Witherspoon and Angelina Jolie, most successful people will tell you their success started from somewhere. In many cases, that somewhere is college. Ah, yes, the institution of higher education that, by nearly all social, logical, and statistical data, leads to a better life. Regardless of the controversy today surrounding student debt, student loans, and high unemployment rate of college grads, for those that pursue worthwhile degrees, what does make success? Why is it that some people end up having their shoes shined and some do the shoe shining?

All the best equations and best success calculators say that it’s you. You’re the one that paves your own way. You’re the one that brands your name into the fecund earth. And while all that may be true, college gives you a head start on that branding. The real question than is which college can give you the most bang for your buck?
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Blogger Natalie K., a high school junior from Colorado, will be sharing some of the issues teens today face with YALSAblog readers…if you’re a young person who would like to write for the YALSAblog,‘ let us know!

If you could be any color of crayon in the crayon box, what would you be? Piano black? Cotton candy pink? Tangerine Lime? There may only be seven known colors in the rainbow, but Crayola has crafted a virtually endless palette.


The same concept applies to careers. Like the seven known colors, there are the basic, standard paths: mathematics, science, social studies, and English. But within each category are infinite subcategories. Math can be broken down into mechanical engineering or chemical engineering or petroleum engineering; science is shattered into chemistry or physics or environmental science; in social science, there’s history or geography; and, in English, there’s creative writing or journalism. And within each of those subcategories, there’s even more subcategories and specializations.

Of course, careers are much more complicated than just breaking down each group into a million possible paths. After all, at that point, a career aspiration is simply like a crayon sitting in the crayon box.’  What matters is which crayon we choose to pick up and draw with. Because, as much as we’d love to, we simply cannot use every single crayon in the box beyond the colorful pictures we drew in pre-school. For our careers, we have to choose one single color.

So you’d better pick your color wisely… Read More →