Spirit Week: Pajama Day!

Dress up days are a common American high school experience, and SPP is no different! We have a different theme for each day, and on Monday (Oct. 23), we asked students to come dressed in their comfiest pajamas! Here are some highlights:

And the winners for best dressed….

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Service Learning at St. Paul Prep

While freshman, sophomores, and juniors were taking the PSAT and Aspire tests on October 13, 68 seniors and six staff members spent a few hours packing meals at Feed My Starving Children. FMSC has been creating and distributing meals to kids in underserved areas since 1987, and has packed nearly two billion meals in that time.

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SPP has been involved with FMSC for the last few years as part of our Service Learning days, when students have a chance to have a positive impact on their community and the world by volunteering their time.

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This time around, the SPP crew packed 202 boxes of meals, which is enough to feed 120 kids for a year. The 43,632 meals will be distributed to starving kids around the world.

Great job seniors!!

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Advisor’s Angle: The Internet: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Janel Cook 2017crop.jpgBy Student Advisor Janel Cook

The Good
The internet provides many opportunities for people to communicate with one another via social networks, online games, phone calls, texting, etc. The aspects to this connectivity are the ability to easily contact friends and family who live in other states or countries, exposure to people and places across the world, and access to international news events as they are happening. Students can easily keep in contact with family and friends back home while living in the U.S.—and probably for free! This is a big change from years past when cell phones and internet did not exist, and phone calls made to other countries were very costly and rare.

The Bad
The internet, social networks, and online games are all ways that keep people engaged with their (sometimes multiple) electronic devices for hours a day, sometimes to a degree that is not healthy for the mind, body, or real life relationships.

Students who have constant contact with friends and family back home tend to be more homesick and not enjoy their time in America simply because they are not allowing themselves the time to build relationships here. If students choose to spend all of their free time on the internet instead of interacting with their Host Families and friends, this will interfere with having a successful exchange experience.

It is acceptable to use the internet, social networks, and online games occasionally as a stress reliever or as a social activity, but it is important to balance free time with other activities that are not dependent upon the internet.

The Ugly
Sometimes people forget that extra-curricular time online is a choice, because they begin to depend on checking or updating statuses, gaming with virtual friends, viewing pornography, etc. as determinants for personal happiness. These online habits become unhealthy (and verge on addiction) when daily life necessities such as: proper hygiene, eating healthy food, getting enough sleep, and exercise are frequently ignored. It can also be deemed unhealthy when students start to neglect and not put time and effort into real life relationships.

If someone begins to suffer physical pain (a sore neck, aching wrists, strained eyes, etc.) from excessive internet use/ gaming, it is safe to say that is not healthy and habits need to change in order to have a happier, healthier exchange experience.

Advisor’s Angle: All Americans Live in Mansions

Janel Cook 2017

By Student and Host Family Advisor Janel Cook

A stereotype is defined as a non-factual assumption about individuals or a group of people. Stereotypes can be positive or negative and can pertain to race, religion, gender, occupation, age, culture, and more.

Everyone around the world holds stereotypes to some degree. Some are conscious and some are subconscious. Many factors influence stereotypical thinking, including: culture, communities, religion, advertising, movies, TV Shows, music, celebrities, news, etc.

For example, some commonly held stereotypes about Americans are that we are loud and arrogant, we eat a lot of fast food (particularly McDonald’s and pizza), and everything in the U.S. is large compared to other countries (i.e. houses, streets, cars, yards, food portions, and people).

Pop Culture Collage

St. Paul Prep students are influenced by American pop culture well before they arrive on program. They have probably watched American films or TV shows, listened to American music, and read about American celebrities and/or politics. That exposure has most likely influenced their ideas of the United States as a whole.

One of our goals is to foster international understanding between cultures. Every student who decides to participate in one of our programs is deciding to live in the U.S., which means they will come face-to-face with the reality of life in the U.S., and therefore, with any stereotypes that they hold about Americans and the United States of America.

Host Families are in the same position. They volunteer to host a student from a specific country. The student arrives and perhaps it is different than expected. Ultimately, both sides are faced with the realities of each other and must learn to allow one another to be who they are as individuals. Sometimes reaching full cultural understanding takes a while, depending on how strongly assumptions are held by each party.

Cultural exchange is a wonderful opportunity for students, Host Families, and SPP staff to challenge what we think is true, which is an important factor in breaking down stereotypes. Through these experiences, we grow more knowledgeable to the realities of cultural exchange. What an enriching experience to share with one another!

Camp Tanadoona

We hope you’ve had a great summer, but it’s almost that time of year again: school. While that means homework, tests, and the like, it also means another thing here at SPP: CAMP!

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A tradition that goes back many years at St. Paul Prep, our start-of-the-year overnight camp is just as important as testing day for new students! Since our student body changes so dramatically with each new school year, this camp is designed to bring students and teachers together to break the ice and get to know each other better.

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Located on the shores of Lake Minnewashta, Camp Tanadoona features 100 acres of woods, trails, and fun!

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This year, students will have the chance to participate in many fun activities, from swimming and boating to soccer, frisbee golf, and so much more! It’ll be just like the classic American camp experience you’ve seen in the movies, only with your classmates and teachers!

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If you want more information, check out the Camp Tanadoona website!

We’re excited. We hope you are too! See you soon, Falcons!

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A Step Forward

fullsizerender-8By current SPP student Valeria from Venezuela

Since 8th grade, I’ve been looking forward to graduation day; to finally step out of school and enter college; to study things I care about, and to surpass the limitations I was given in my previous schools. However, in senior year I felt different.

“You’re too immature, Valeria. Too immature, too young, and too dependent on your parents for you to leave to college,” a little voice whispered inside my head.

During the first two months of my stay in St. Paul, I was struck with the realization I was not prepared to enter this new phase of my life. It all started at the beginning of the first semester last fall. The story goes a little something like this:

I was clueless as to what university I wanted to go to, nostalgic of my family and culture, out of my elements in class, dispirited in my only A.P course, and consumed by preoccupation over standardized testing for colleges. The weight of my responsibilities kept sinking me to the bottom as I drowned on my own. I had never struggled in my life without having someone to make it better, as I grew up in a collectivist culture. For quite a while, I thought that I had lost that here, until one day as I sat alone studying for the SAT, one of my teachers took the initiative to help me out a little. Every day that I sat down with him, I sighed of relief; his sincere willingness to help me without receiving anything in return was heart-warming. His advice not only brought tranquility to my soul, but gave me strength to stay persistent. I was no longer alone.

In addition, later on Vicky came into my life. I had gone to our school counselor Ms. Hill several times, however what I wanted her to do for me would have required the use of too much of her time, considering that she had to guide 63 other seniors (some that might be even more lost than me in such a labyrinth).

Ms. Hill, being the consummate professional that she is, sensed I was lost at sea, and so she reined me in back to shore. She gave me a small, fairly mundane, contact card with the name “Vicky” sprawled in simple black lettering (little did I know the impact that small, mundane card would have on my college search). Vicky is a former SPP counselor and Advanced English Composition teacher who left her teaching job for a job as a lawyer; still, she spends her free time helping students in my situation.

I still had a sea of colleges to pick and choose from, and yet the question remained, where would I really fit in? Which one would have the best broadcast journalism program? Which one would have the biggest diversity of cultures? Which one this? Which one that? Which one? Vicky helped me figure all this out by making me form my own conclusions.

I had to re-start my college search, only this time with her there, over my shoulder guiding me. To be frank, I was irritated that I’d have to start the search process all over again from scratch, but looking back it was probably the best thing that I could have done. When I was on my own, I let my own bias for big name schools get in the way of what I was really looking for, and began to apply to colleges that offered a curriculum I did not even want or would not even be helpful for my desired career.

Can you imagine? Going to a college I don’t like, far away from my family and home (which was a sacrifice I guess I was willing to make) and coping with the stress of college life who knows how. I was well on my way to imploding because of how unprepared I was for college, the concept of adult independence was still new to me and I wouldn’t have an altruistic teacher to guide me anymore. Thanks to Vicky, all the self-destruction was spared.

Vicky also made me understand the one thing that kept on adding weight on my shoulders. This whole time, I had been looking for some sort of emotional shelter within my Host Family and I failed in my attempts. I told Vicky the story of how I couldn’t find emotional comfort with them, and she said, “Valeria, you cannot go to a hardware store and expect to buy raisins, you have to go to a grocery store for that. What you are looking for is something they might not be able to provide you with, because they are simply not used to it. There will be other people, like your teacher, that will make your experience unique and fascinating, leaving a mark in your heart.”

And she was right, I was looking in the wrong places. My Host Family had been great, but they were not the ones that would give me the affection and support I craved. Emotionally, the burden was off my back as I stopped making my Host Family into something they were not: my actual family or any Venezuelan. I finally understood I couldn’t force them to act like my culture does.

A month later, I was in Ashburn, Virginia spending Christmas with my family and finally finishing my college applications. All the stress was gone, but something was still aching. Was I really satisfied with my decisions?…I think I wasn’t.

I left my father’s family living in Ashburn for a few days to visit my mother’s sister in Washington D.C. Her name is Carmen Beatriz, but I always called her Aunty Triz. I hadn’t seen her in years because Venezuela’s situation forced her (along with many other relatives and friends) to leave me. We had a great time together, but the clock was ticking and it was time for me to go back to Ashburn.

As we were getting closer and closer to Ashburn, anxiety kept taking over me and when I had to say goodbye I shattered. That’s what had been bugging me this whole time. Ever since September all the way to that cold night in December, I realized I was unsatisfied because I will never be able to live in peace If I am away from the warm people I love and the culture that shaped every aspect of my personality. Although the Universities I applied to were the best options when it came to the education they would provide; wasn’t my personal happiness a huge factor to consider as well? I never thought about it because I did not think it was a thing that would bother me. I had always been a happy person, but I wasn’t in the culture that I’m from; the one that truly brings me internal peace and enamors me more each day of my existence.

That night was a massive paradox to me, I was broken and cured. It cleared my blurred vision and I realized what I’d wanted this whole time: great education near my family. What a better place for that than Colombia? The most similar country to Venezuela that offers me infinite opportunities and a near location to my precious home. Today, I see clearly what I want, and feel immensely grateful for my teacher, who will always have a place in my heart, Vicky, and my school SPP. Without them I would have made the wrong decisions and postponed my happiness and inner serenity. Moreover, SPP, its passionate staff, and my experience with them taught me how to manage my time, control stress, work hard independently, but most importantly prepare me for the next phase of my life.