PatChat is your inside view of GA from students' perspective

Thursday, April 30, 2015

CSO Programming Resonates

To most kids, counting down the days until the impending weekend arrives means being able to relax, sit down, and forget about school for the next few days. While this may be true for me too, weekends mean more than just getting the opportunity to finally sleep in or to catch up on all the recent episodes I missed on TV. Instead, every weekend I look forward to the mornings where I’m lucky enough to travel into the city with my school and talk to some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met in my life.
GA students visiting Face to Face.

I recall the first time I ever ventured into the lesser parts of the city where I helped serve lunch at the local homeless shelter. I remember the distinct feeling of being scared, but also the feeling of nervousness too. It wasn’t a fear of the common stereotypes people joke about the homeless that worried me. No, I felt nervous because I was scared that these people wouldn’t accept me. Here I was, some girl that to them probably looked like I only came because my school forced me to, and I’m trying to relate to a world they probably think I never in a million years could understand. So, yeah, I was scared that these people who suffered so much and have seen so much would see me and not welcome me here. Little did I know that those I meet at Face to Face are some of the greatest, most kind-hearted people I’ve ever talked to. While many people see a homeless person as someone who simply cannot afford to support themselves, I soon learned how incredibly wrong this notion was.

Nina T. '16 enjoys some conversation during a recent trip.
After my first visit to Face to Face [learn more here], I began to develop not just a passion and love for the community there, but also a huge amount of respect for them too. The people I met didn’t just spike my interest because they were funny and interesting to talk to, I liked them and looked up to them because I realized they’re not like me, but that they’re better than that. Here I am, every Saturday, taking a couple hours out of my day to volunteer when some of these people go weeks, sometimes months without water, food, or heat. So, yeah, because of this idea, I began to look up to them as mentors. I realized that maybe just because they didn't receive the same opportunities that I did during my childhood doesn’t mean they were any less of a person than I was. In fact, I realized that these people have seen and been through some things I can’t even begin to image.

As usual, on a recent Saturday, I traveled down to Face to Face where I, again, received the opportunity talk with some of the regulars I’ve grown close to and also got the chance to meet some of the new faces I saw that week. While I spent my time down there the other week, I entered excited and anxious about seeing everyone and left feeling enlightened yet content with all of the progress I made with simply helping make these people’s lives a better for the day.

Something that really stuck with me was after talking to an older man about his life, how he ended up in Philadelphia, and his faith, I finally realized and understood the true importance of our school’s community service program. It’s not because of the need to impress colleges or push us out of our comfort zones, but it’s to expose us to the world outside of ours and make us realize how, although these people might look and act differently, in more ways than one they are the same as us.
Mr. McVeigh, CSO's founder, delights in bringing students throughout the region.
So, as cliché as it might sound, I’ve never felt so grateful to have had the opportunity to travel down to Face to Face every weekend and get to meet these people. If it weren’t for our CSO (Community Service Organization) program, I probably would’ve been too scared to even try it myself, and so for that, I’ll always feel thankful that GA provides these opportunities.

~ Abby K. '17

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

GA Robotics VEXes Competition

The GA Robotics Team at the battleground, the Wells Fargo Center.
I have to admit, I was pretty impressed. When I first suggested last year that we join the VEX robotics competition, I was half joking. I never expected everybody to start nodding and drawing out plans from my spontaneous idea. Our team had dabbled in some simple robotics experiments and projects, most notably the Navy’s Sea Perch competition at Drexel, but we had never programmed and built a robot from scratch. Even in October when the materials were sent to us, I doubted we could do it.

The calm before the storm. Click here to see the team in action.
The six of us all consider ourselves good students and great learners, all taking several honors and AP science classes over our four years, but I never thought we would be ready for a project like this. The thing that surprised me was the way everything clicked and soon began feeling natural. We began building our robot, secretly nicknamed Happy Gilmore, from the ground up in November and had a working model in January.
Some last minute fine tuning for Happy Gilmore.
Soon it became natural attaching wires, stripping them, and even bolting odd metal sheets, things I had never seen myself ever doing my senior year. I was proud of our finished product and the first time that I drove, it was almost like seeing your child walk for the first time because it wasn’t pretty. For every turn and movement forward or backward, it meant losing a bolt and screw from the structure. Yet, if attending GA has taught me anything, it’s that success takes failure. And to be truthfully honest, we failed in our first ever Vex Robotics competition. I mean, at one point Happy Gilmore was on his back doing the worm for everybody’s amusement while the other team racked up points against us and our alliance as we slowly lowered our heads in shame. In the end, we built a great robot, programed it to move and stack a block or two on its own, and even beat the Haverford School’s robot, our rival. We placed 6
th and 4th respectively in our next competitions and made it to the quarter and semifinals, surprising everyone counting us out because of our inexperience. It took commitment (including a Friday night before the competition working until 1AM), most of our free periods, and the ability for a chemist, physicist, engineer, mathematician, and cancer researcher to work together to create a living and moving being named Happy Gilmore.
The competition was fierce once it began.
We never saw eye to eye, or even had times in common to work together, but the beauty of GA is that we as students hate to fail. And the sour taste left in our mouths after our first competition drove us to succeed on a level nobody ever saw coming. Not even me.

With our competitive success as a group, we were ecstatic when he heard that next year Germantown Academy will introduce the Beard Innovation Center, which will contain a dedicated robotics field for future teams. After working out of a tiny room all year, we are excited that next year’s juniors and sophomores will have the opportunity to have a full field to practice on, including a room dedicated to design and building to share with other projects next year. We couldn’t be any happier with the results of GA’s first ever legitimate Robotics team. Our team’s inclusion in the Beards Innovation Center’s design is testament to the success we had this year.

~ Abay T. ‘15

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Singing Patriots' European Vacation

There is no experience like traveling with 50 kids and 8 faculty chaperones to Europe for 10 days. Over Spring Break 2015, the Singing Patriots traveled over 3,000 miles to Czech Republic and Poland.

Saturday, March 21st, we all showed up at the airport ready to take on Europe. 6 hours later while most everyone was sitting on the plane, there was still a group of us waiting to check in. Thankfully after lots of frustration and loooonnnggg lines, we all successfully made it aboard the plane to Frankfurt. Once arriving in Frankfurt, they split the group and while half of our group ventured to Prague the rest of us were stuck for 6 hours in the Frankfurt airport. I can confidently say that I know terminal A of the Frankfurt airport like the back of my hand.
One of Madison's view of Prague.

Post shower, dinner, and much needed 10 hours of sleep it was time to explore Prague. Prague turned out to be incredibly beautiful. We started our day with a walking tour of the city. We drove to the very top of Prague and began our walk to the bottom. We toured the main castle and stopped for espresso and hot chocolate. The group then wove our way through a beautiful vineyard on a hill and made our way onto the Charles Bridge. The view was incredible and the atmosphere was indescribable as we watched the astronomical clock, the Prague orloj, chime at 1.
Locks of love.

In front of the Lennon Wall.
During our 2 hours of free time, some friends and I decided to go find the John Lennon Wall and I couldn’t be happier that we did because it was like something out of a movie. Walking back across the Charles Bridge with music from a group of street performers and large groups of European boys, I really got this feeling of pure bliss. We got a little lost, but it was worth it because we stumbled across a small dog park and Prague’s equivalent to the love lock bridge in Paris.

The wall was something else. When we arrived, there was a guy singing with his guitar. We had been told that the wall had been painted white by communist supporters only 2 months before, but it was full of color now. People would walk by and as you listened you knew that people from all over the world were appreciating this. I will never forget hearing the words of John Lennon’s “Imagine” as we walked away it was definitely a chilling moment.

Our first concert later that night was a huge success. Around 300 people came out to watch and listen to us perform. We had an incredible time even though the church was freezing. The acoustics were fantastic and I know, at least for me, it was a moment like no other to be able to sing our first note in the church and hear the echo.

Fast forward 3 days and we have arrived in the Polish city of Wrocław after a long 5 ½ hour bus ride. When we pulled into the city, our tour guide started explaining to us that this city is know for gnomes that are hidden all around the city, none of us really understood until later that night.
One of the famous gnomes.
We had a competition to see who could find the most gnomes (I actually think I won, I got really into it). We ate lunch, threw our bags in our rooms, and had an hour of down time before our concert. That night the church was also freezing, but by this time in the trip we had actually started to bond, so it wasn’t awful sitting in the dressing room because we were all able to sit with each other and laugh. We had another incredible concert that night, and although it was a smaller turn, the people were amazing. They were some of the sweetest people I have ever met in my life. There was even a man who started singing along with us.

The next morning we departed for Kraków, Poland. We got there around 5 o’clock and headed to rehearsal with our sister school. When we walked into the main entrance of the school, we were greeted by loud cheers and lots of clapping - the feeling was incredibly welcoming. The first time we heard the entire group sing together, I remember all the girls looking at each other because the bass/tenor section was actually there.

Friday was our trip to Auschwitz. I had a very hard time going there, and I don’t like to talk about it, but it was important for us to go and learn and remember what happened there. That night was our third concert at a Catholic mass. Even though I’m Jewish and don’t speak Polish, I thought it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever watched.

After our rehearsal with the First High School of Kraków, we split up with some of the kids and had around 4 hours of free time with them. My group had fun. We went to lunch and then to a museum that is underneath the main town square.
Patriots party, Polish style.
We had a party with the Polish kids that night, and it was a lot of fun. We all got to spend some quality time together unwinding form our busy trip.

The last day of our tour was sad but also extremely exciting because we were going to sing with the Polish high school in their brand new ICE congress center in the city. The sound that our 2 choirs made together was amazing and we all had become good friends.
One of the Singing Patriots' performances.
After 10 long days together, we grew a lot closer but also were very ready to get a break from one another. Although the food wasn’t great and we never got any sleep, we were like a huge dysfunctional family and it was honestly one of the coolest trips I’ve ever taken. We got to sing in a castle, a salt mine, the Estates Theatre, and in the Polish equivalent of the Kimmel Center. We are unbelievably lucky and grateful for these opportunities and I can’t wait for the Polish choir to come pay us a visit in 2 years.

~ Madison P. ‘18

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Breaktime Surprise for Middle School

Just another regular school day.
Mr. Wright and Student Council members with pretzels at the ready.
Mr. Jeswald comes on the announcement speaker and says “All Middle School students report to the Common Room.” Everyone thought that something bad had happened because his voice was so serious.  So then everyone comes down to the common room but everyone was very confused. When we got there, the Student Council was giving out pretzels and there was music on. Everyone thought that it was weird but then a few kids went and started dancing and then a lot more people were dancing.
Cutting some rug during the surprise party at morning break.
There were teachers dancing too. I really enjoyed it, it was really fun. I hope they do it again sometime.

~Sarah A. '20

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Science Fairs Galore

As I prepare for my last year at Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science and Montgomery County Science Teachers’ Association science fair competition, I look back and feel proud for the work that I have done. Carrying out a science experiment, on top of all the work and other activities I have, sometimes can be a bit of a drag. But every year that I have done it, I have always been rewarded. I am not only sometimes rewarded with prizes, but I also grow from each experience. The thing I enjoy the most in independent science research is the actual independence. It is entirely on you to think, conduct, and present your science research project and this gives me a confidence boost every year. Mrs. Kesten does help you along the way, of course, but everything stems from you.
Josh's classroom preparation prior to competition.

This year I tested to see which type of mouthwash was the most effective at killing bacteria. I grew bacteria on seashells to mimic a tooth with plaque. I then compared the bacteria on the shells prior to mouthwash exposure to the amount after mouthwash exposure. During the competitions at PJAS, I nervously await the time to present my project to the judges. I am unable to comprehend the other research presentations going on, as I am too focused on my project to pay attention to others. When it is my turn to present, the nerves quickly go away because I find that, after all of the research and work I have put into my project, I know everything there is to know about it. My presentation to the judges instantly becomes more of a conversation with them.
GA students prepare their projects.

 After I finish answering their questions, I feel relieved and hope for the best. I later hear that got a second place category award and even though I will not be going to Penn State, I still was proud of myself. I got another chance at MCSTA competition and there I got a first place category award and will be going on Delaware Valley Science Fair. It just goes to show that your project might not go your way in one competition, but has the chance to go in your favor in another and that is what keeps science research exciting for me.

~Josh H. '15

Editor's note: As a senior, Josh has had many opportunities to participate in PJAS and MCSRC events. Continue reading to learn about one member of the Class of 2018's first time experience science fair competition on the high school level.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know about Independent Research (Science Fair) going into my freshman year of high school. It wasn’t until midway through October that I found out about the course, and I was hesitant about taking it. Naturally, starting a month behind everybody else was not appealing, especially when I had no project in mind. However, after some dinner table discussion with my urban planner/consultant dad, I felt a little more confident about my late start. My project, with my father serving as my mentor, would be to develop a webpage that displayed bridges on a map with an interactive SQL box that allowed for data interrogation. In other words, I would build a webpage that allowed people to look at bridges. Now as interesting as my project may seem, some parts of it were very tedious, even from the very beginning. Signing the form for a course addition took me the better part of a month, and the permission forms I handed in were often creased and folded from long days in the bottom of my backpack. When all this was done, I finally decided to get to work on my project and Winter Break came around. In those two festive weeks, I befriended Microsoft Excel, SigmaPlots, and the National Bridge Inventory Database. While most people came back from their break with tans and foreign memorabilia, I had proudly produced sheets upon sheets of graphs and tables. Shortly after, my webpage came to be with the help of HTML and JavaScript coding. That was the end of my project development, at least for the time being.

The first competition was PJAS, held at Souderton High School. I created a PowerPoint presentation and practiced in front of Ms. Kesten to prepare for my first high school science fair experience. As I walked into Souderton High School armed with my flash drive and a pair of new dress shoes, I gazed around at all the other kids wearing fancy suits and even nicer dress shoes.
Andrew gets help readying his project for competition.
Intimidation definitely found its way into my heart. That feeling was still present as I plugged my flash drive into the presenting keyboard. Being one of the last people to present in my group, I had seen some good projects come before me. However, the skills I learned in Ms. Rominger’s 8
th grade Public Speaking class surfaced as I presented my work. I wasn’t the epitome of eloquence or a wizard with words, but it did the job. It turned out I would advance to Penn State in May for another competition, which was a nice feeling. The next hurdle was the Montgomery County competition at Ursinus College. I went this time on a Tuesday morning with a trifold board and research paper vigorously typed and edited the week before. My time there consisted of about three hours of sitting and answering the probing questions of multiple judges.
Middle School Science Department Head Mr. Wakeman with students at Ursinus.
It was a bit stressful having my work under the scrutiny of strangers, but I made it through the morning. However, this time I would not advance in my competition. Needless to say I was a bit upset, but it wasn’t a totally heartbreaking tragedy.

Science fair was a very eye-opening experience. It wasn’t the easiest of things, but it was something new and it really benefitted me as a student. Showing off months of your work in a few, short days can be difficult, but that’s what contributes to the fun.
~ Andrew L. ‘18