September 11th Aftermath: My Story

I had actually begun writing this post last month but for some reason divine intervention, I decided that I should just hold off a little while longer before publishing. Throughout the years I had this idea continue to build up in my head but I never really felt I could write a full composed post on it until last month. So instead of putting it off, I decided I should finish writing it and post it now anyway when it seems relevant. The topic of my post this entire time: my life in the immediate aftermath of September 11th.

We had just moved to New Jersey in 2000, when I was in 8th grade and was just getting settled in and decided to apply to this brand new “Academy” school which had opened up just across the street from my complex. I didn’t have any initial interest but my math teacher really encouraged me and my parents really saw potential in going to such a school (I’m sure the proximity played a role as well). I paid them a visit, liked what they pitched, gave an entrance exam and here I am, almost a whole decade later.

I remember the Tuesday morning like it was yesterday, we had just come out of our first period engineering classes when our principal called us all (and by all I mean the 70 kids that attended the school at the time) to the common area. He announced the events that had taken place and had any student whose parent(s) worked in the area or might have been affected, to go to the office and give a call to make sure they were okay. The rest proceeded to our next class where we all watched the events unfold in horror and amazement.

Being the only Muslim in my school was quite the unique experience but I had hopes of being to be a normal kid and go on my way without sticking out. That wasn’t going to be the case any more and to a certain extent, I am glad about it. I was able to stand out, defend my beliefs and religion against these atrocities and be able to learn from and educate my peers and teachers. As much as I didn’t want to be singled out, I look back on that as one of the best learning and growing experiences I have had. It makes you question what you stand for and ultimately I stood stronger at the end than I did coming in.

There wasn’t a single student in my freshman class that mocked me for my religion – I make that distinction because there was one racist kid in the year above me and I suppose calling me a terrorist made him feel better about himself. Most teachers were great too – again I say ‘most’ because there was one issue but I will get to that in a minute. As for the rest of the teachers, all held pretty open and fair discussions on what had happened and more importantly, why had it happened? We didn’t belittle each other, we were pretty open minded about it with far greater respect than I had expected 14 year olds to show each other in times of great tension. Maybe we didn’t know any better but through that experience I learned a great deal about the character of my peers in those very first few months of my freshman year than I would need to the remaining 3+ years. Our petty disagreements and hurt feelings on who our favourite team is or what your favourite pokemon is pale in comparison to how we treated each in time of great national distress. To this day, I’m quite grateful for the way I was treated by them and the teachers – for the most part.

The one dreaded issue that still lingers was in one class that I was sent down to the principal’s office because my actions “were not representative of a patriotic person” and “is not what the country needs at this time”. My crime: saying that actions by some Americans could be described as “idiotic”. Let me be clear, this discussion took place after we read a story in class and was not related to any 9/11 discussion whatsoever. That’s what caught me off guard with all of this. When I had said this, the teacher made no remark that somehow what I had said was wrong but a period later, when I am in another class, I was told to go down. To my dissatisfaction at the time, I didn’t receive any support from the school administration either although it is not surprising now that I look back upon it. To this day, the teacher never spoke to me about the issue and in my youthful ignorance (or better judgment), and partly I am to blame for wrongly choosing to drop the issue. I will still gladly take an apology but at this point, I better let bygones be bygones.

Talking With High School Kids

Last year, I was contacted by my high school to gauge interest if I would be interested in coming back and speaking to the current students about my transition from high school to university and eventually to professional life. My limited flexibility in my schedule due to just starting a new job didn’t allow me to make the trip last year but I was finally able to do it earlier last week when my scheduled trip home fit both of our schedules.

Let me explain my high school first. The Middlesex County Academy for Sciences, Mathematics and Engineering Technologies was established in 2000 and I was part of the 2nd class to enter the institution. Each year, the school only accepts 40 students from the entire county and stops replacing them if they leave after sophomore year. I ended up graduating with only 32 students but just from that select group alone we have people working internationally, have had some enrolled in Ivy League schools, a couple going for their PHDs and not to mention the various types of fields in the industry we have managed to penetrate. Let me also say I was fortunate to have Christine volunteer to come speak with me as well as it provided an excellent balance for two people who started in the same place and have gone on to take completely opposite routes since and still be enjoying what they do professionally.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the talk as I didn’t know too many of them beforehand since we have been out of that building for almost 6 years now but it continued to be more productive as the day progressed. The seniors seemed far more reserved compared to the barrage of questions and feedback we received from the juniors afterwards but they did come back with requests to talk to alums who had taken certain paths and to the best of our abilities, we have put all in touch with someone within a matter of days.

Since the talk, we have started to take the first concrete steps towards founding an Academy Alumni Foundation which I think will go a long way in connecting not only the alumni with each other but also serve as a strong foundation for the current students looking to take the next step in their educational or professional careers. I have already heard from excited alumni who are asking about how they can help and hopefully this type of activity still exists once the association is up and running – which shouldn’t be too far into the future (barring any setbacks).

For those that went to my high school and have not yet filled out the Alumni information form, please do so here. In under a week now, we have been able to get nearly 50% of all graduates already spanning over six years and hopefully that trend continues so we can officially launch in the near future.

Can You Solve Simple Math Problems?

It is no shocking news that the ability of children all across the country to perform lower level mathematics has been significantly dropping year after year. By lower level math I mean things like division with decimals, multiplication with exponents, scientific notation as well as basic geometry, algebra and trigonometry.

The test that I am going to attach below and hopefully something that you will all take just to see how much you simple math you still remember to be able to do. Out of the 13 problems on that exam, I had problems with (1e) for some unexplainable reason but I guess that is me being rusty. I did well there not to embarrass at least myself but it certainly would not surprise me if those people who have done little to no math since high school that they would struggle exam. It is not a trend that I like but it is only a matter of fact nowadays.

This was a test (UW – Math Test) was conducted by a professor at the University of Washington who teaches Atmospheric Sciences 101, which is supposedly a large lecture with a diverse population of students from different majors I would assume. The results that the professor got from the simple test were rather appalling due to the lack of abilities of the incoming freshmen year after year.

The professor went on to write:

The results were stunning, in a very depressing way. This was an easy test, including elementary and middle school math problems. And these are students attending a science class at the State’s flagship university–these should be the creme of the crop of our high school graduates with highGPAs. And yet most of them can’t do essential basic math–operations needed for even the most essential problem solving.

Consider these embarrassing statistics from the exam:

The overall grade was 58%

43% did not know the formula for the area of a circle
86% could not do a simple algebra problem (problem 4b)
75% could not do a simple scientific notation problem (1e)
52% could not deal with a negative exponent (2 to the -2)
43% could not do simple long division problem with no remainder!
47% did not know what a cosine was.

Take The Test Here: UW – Math Test

Answer Key (Take Test First!): UW – Math Test Answers

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Breaking Down Gender Barriers

It’s not every day you get to hear about a high school girl captaining a varsity boy’s soccer team and being successful at it.

Meet Aditi Vyas. A senior who goes to the Middlesex County Academy in Edison, New Jersey which is a school only 10 years into existence and one that only accepts 40 kids each year from the entire county based upon an entrance exam which usually yields only a 20% acceptance rate.

As a senior this year, she co-captained the squad to a 9-9-1 record but an outstanding 7-2-1 in division mark where they fell one pathetically refereed game short of winning at least a share of the Gold Division. I had a couple of opportunities to coach her both during her regular school season and in two indoor seasons where she has been nothing short for a great leader for her squad which at times were quite inexperienced. There was never a doubt in my mind she would be able to overcome some of the verbal/physical abuse you take in the GMC (or in any competitive environment) as a female going up against male opponents.

When the Academy soccer program back in 2004, the initial squad featured two girls with the Scala sisters who certainly took more than their fair share of abuse on the playing field but if you were to ask anybody from the program over the years, they wouldn’t replace either one of them and I am certain that has been the case for all the girls that have passed through the program since from Danielle and Lauren Scala to Allison Mazur to Aditi Vyas and will be the case for those to follow.

Coming from a school with approximately 150 students, it didn’t matter where you were from, it didn’t matter if you were a freshman or senior and it most certainly didn’t matter what your gender was. Having a great leader and coach who stood up for the team and instilled these beliefs, made the task to be just another day on the soccer field. It is good to see the school get some more recognition which has finished at or near the top of its division despite carrying a co-ed roster from year 1 going 55-54-2 since 2004 and 45-23-2 in division.

For a look at the entire piece that was featured, click here: The Home News Tribune: Locker Room.

What Has Your High School Done Recently?

So this is just an amazing story out of my high school of roughly 140 kids where they have collected over 14,000 lbs. of food for M.C.F.O.O.D.S., the Middlesex County emergency food network to help 60 different food pantries and soup kitchens all across Middlesex County.

I have heard there were some incentives academically but nothing is confirmed so I won’t comment on that yet but I think anything you do to urge kids to raise more to help the needy is a worthwhile cause in my mind.

If anyone from the Academy has any more details on this, feel free to comment or let me know and I’ll put it up here and credit you of course.

140-something kids did that. What has your high school done? I don’t care, I’m not ashamed to say that I went to the Middlesex County Academy for Science, Mathematics and Engineering Technologies.