Common App creates common problems

The fourth version of the Common Application, often referred to as the Common App, was released on Aug. 1, and since then, at least 42 colleges and universities pushed back their early deadlines due to system malfunctions.

Complete application submission became a problem under this year’s version of the Common App, a nonprofit college admission application company that allows students to create one master application that will be submitted to its member colleges for consideration.

Documents wouldn’t load, PDFs wouldn’t attach, students’ entire accounts froze and complete applications wouldn’t submit.

For senior Megan Lynch, many of these issues added extra stress to her application process.

“My University of Michigan application didn’t go through,” Lynch said. “They emailed me saying they couldn’t find my transcripts or my test scores, so I didn’t make early action.”

Senior Sabrina Meo had similar problems in her application process. She wasn’t able to submit her actual application, and sometimes she wasn’t even able to log into the Common App. website.

“I would wake up at 4 a.m. to submit and work on my application,” Meo said. “There were less people on the server, so things didn’t run as slow.”

Since 517 different colleges and universities use the Common App in some form, and 175 of those schools use the Common App exclusively, students around the country, including Meo, were starting to worry.

“The problems I had didn’t affect my deadlines,” Meo said. “Just my stress level.”

According to Scott Anderson, the Senior Director for Policy at the Common Application, the newest version of the Common App was intended to be a more robust system that would effectively guide applicants and schools through the complex application process. But he recognizes this year’s version of the Common App was far from perfect and said he appreciates the way most people reacted to the problems they encountered.

“Since the Aug. 1 launch of the 2013-14 Common Application, nearly 480,000 applicants have used the system to submit college applications,” Anderson said. “We are grateful for the patience exhibited by these applicants, their parents, counselors, and teachers as we worked to support them through the technical challenges they may have faced in the application process.”

Problems with the Common App were not only encountered by students, but by counselors and teachers too. In fact, for counselor Gerry Holmes, the Common App upgrade felt more like a downgrade.

“None of (the Common App) was working,” Holmes said. “There were plenty of upset people with important deadlines to meet. Teachers were emailing me left and right about it. It was just chaos.”

Holmes said she dealt with plenty of students as they faced problems loading documents, submitting documents and viewing recommender-submitted documents.

“The college application process is stressful enough as it is,” Holmes said. “Students don’t need anything added to that.”

English teacher and yearbook adviser Barry Mergler was one of the many teachers who had problems submitting a recommendation. He said a recommendation letter that appeared to be complete and submitted wasn’t received by the University. His problems were eventually solved when he switched browsers.

Mergler, who has used the Common App for years, said he has never had problems before this year.

“Usually things are easy, very straightforward,” Mergler said. “This year, things were rather rocky.”

Former English teacher, Jo Muszkiewicz had problems that surpassed submission difficulties, though. After Muszkiewicz set up her account under the new version of the system and submitted recommendations for several students, she said she could not even log into the site.

“At first I thought it was because I was in Europe when I was trying to submit the recommendations,” Muszkiewicz said. “But when I got home, I still had problems. There were times when I was able to access the site and times when I simply could not sign in.”

So Muszkiewicz called the Common App help desk, and they were able to fix the problem quickly. After that, though, she had more trouble getting help.

Finally, the help desk suggested that Muszkiewicz switch browsers, just as Mergler had.

“Rollouts of new systems always seem to have bugs that need to be ironed out,” Muszkiewicz said. “Sometimes the only way to find the problems is to have people use the system.”

That being said, the Common App still feels responsible for the complications users have, and Anderson said they are working to make sure the problems users encountered this year don’t happen again.

“We want to reinforce the message that we are sorry for all of the frustrations experienced during the rollout of the new system,” Anderson said. “We are fully committed to guiding each applicant and recommender to a successful submission.”

WISD program provides life skills training

It’s 12:45 in the afternoon. Hundreds of students flock out of the lunch room, heading to their fourth hour classes. The cacophony of teenage voices fades away and silence floods the air.

However, a handful of students remain in the lunch room. These are the students enrolled in the Washtenaw Intermediate School District classroom for students with moderate cognitive impairment at DHS, and they are at their next activity: lunch room cleanup.

Four days a week, after C lunch, students from this classroom aid in stacking chairs and cleaning up the lunch room. While some believe that these students are unjustly forced to work, the purpose of this activity, according to teacher, Liz Shields, is to prepare the students for life after high school.

“Part of our curriculum for this class is to learn life skills,” she said. “And working a job is a life skill.”

Just as DHS students are enrolled in two semester classes, these students practice cleaning throughout the entirety of the school year. “Learning job skills is an ongoing thing, because a lot of them will start with needing a lot of help from us as their job coach, but then by the end of the year, they’re more independent with it,” Shields said.

Special education teaching assistant Richard Korth shares a similar view.

“Everyone has to learn their job and figure out how to do it,” he said. “If you don’t do your job for a while, you get out of the routine and you have to relearn your work.”

While parents reserve the right to opt their child out of this activity, said Shields, none have ever done so. “All the parents understand that having a job and learning how to do a job is part of our curriculum and part of what the kids are going to need after they leave DHS.”

However, the life skills in the curriculum practiced in this classroom aren’t limited to stacking chairs and washing tables; the program also emcompasses a myriad variety of other pivotal tasks.

“We also do all kinds of other life skills things like cooking and laundry and hygiene because those things are all part of our curriculum,” Shields said. “Getting down there and doing that works gives them job experience that will help them for the future.”

Prom moves to the Big House

What’s happening?

For about 25 years on the Friday before Prom, just under 100 prom committee volunteers flooded the halls after school, glue guns in their hands and determination in their eyes.

They had one mission: transform the whitewashed walls and tiled floors of Dexter High School into something unrecognizable, something fit to host a prom for hundreds of juniors and seniors.

And for almost a quarter of a century, they’ve succeeded with the extreme makeover. In just over 24 hours, they’ve created enchanted forests, Mardi Gras festivals and schools of witchcraft and wizardry.

But this spring, the prom committee won’t need to wield their staple guns and extension cords. Instead, breaking with tradition, the junior-senior prom will be held at University of Michigan’s football stadium a.k.a. “The Big House.”

How did it get this way?

According to student council adviser and high school teacher Al Snider, there were two major factors that led to the venue change: liability and a declining number of volunteers.

“It became harder and harder for the prom committee to make it as big as they wanted,” he said.  “I know people are busy, and the committee was having a tough time getting people to help.”

In fact, at one point a few years ago, some students were given the responsibility of a couple halls due to a lack of parent volunteers.

According to Paula Staebler, chair of the prom committee, parents are busy and oftentimes over committed, which is probably the main reason the numbers of volunteers have dwindled over the years.

“Because of the extent of time, energy, and creativity that is needed, many parents just cannot commit to such an undertaking,” Staebler said.  “A committee chair spends at least three months planning and executing their ideas, and the weekend of prom they literally spend the entire weekend at DHS.”

So, as Staebler put it, the new location will make this year’s prom “kinder and gentler for the volunteers.”

The number of volunteers was shrinking, and, although the prom committee was never actually cited by the fire marshall, the concern about liability was growing.  Sprinkler heads, fire alarms and fire extinguishers at the high school were covered up by decorations and creating a fire hazard.

And just last year there was a slight snafu in the “Nearlyweds” game room, where one of the powerstrips became overheated and started smoking.

“That really clued us and the administration in that we needed to look elsewhere because of the liability issues,” Snider said.

And so began the hunt for a new venue.  Other locations on the U of M campus such as the League and the Union, as well as Eastern Michigan and Washtenaw Community College’s new venues were all in the running before the final decision was made. Staebler said she was brainstorming with her son, junior Tristin Staebler, and one of her son’s friends, junior Chris Ryan, when having the prom at Michigan Stadium came up.

“I quickly, as we were sitting there talking, emailed the contact at the Jack Roth Stadium club,” Staebler said.  “And the idea was born.”

How is it playing out?

Despite the drastic change in venue, many of the aspects that made up former proms will still be present this spring.

For example, neither Snider nor Staebler predict that the price of $35 a ticket will change much.

According to Snider, the price has been the same for about 10 years, a factor that will be taken into consideration when deciding this year’s ticket cost.

“If it did increase, it would not increase more than $5 per ticket,” Staebler said.  “Prom ticket prices have been the same for a number of years, so an increase would not be unreasonable.” Many of the games and activities that have made an annual appearance at former proms, will also make the trip to The Big House.

“We store the poker tables and the putt-putt in the building at Creekside,” Snider said.  “We just have to trek it a little bit farther, as opposed to around the corner.”

Staebler agreed that the prom parent volunteers will try to keep the games consistent, too, in order to maintain the integrity of past proms.

“We are hoping to keep some of the same old favorites available for the students, to keep the same feel as in years past, just in a new format,” she said.

The prom will also still be theme-based. This year’s theme, decided by an upperclassmen vote,  is “Under the Stars.” However, decorations will not hang from the walls and ceilings like they have in the past, due to the same liability issues, according to Snider.

As for venues in the years to come, Staebler wants to keep her options open, but she is also considering having prom at The Big House each year.

She said, “I would like to see how it goes and possibly keep it there.”

New superintendent hosts community conversation

On Dec. 5, new Superintendent Christopher Timmis held a meeting attended by seven Dexter citizens. Timmis held this open meeting with the community to address community concerns regarding the school district. His said his purpose was to figure out where the school system lies within the community and find a long-term way to success. Timmis organized the meeting like a question and answer interview with 10 questions he had for the community. Below are his questions and the community answers, summarized as bullet points.

What are we most proud of with Dexter Schools?

•The strong sense of community within the school system.

•The accomplishments throughout the schools.

•We are equal to or surpassed the success and accomplishments of other schools.

•The growth that the school has seen.

•The strong extracurricular activities.

What are we least proud of with Dexter Schools?

•Needs to be more effort with communication between building to building.

•Keep everyone on the same schedule and calendar to avoid confusion.

•We can expect more and set the bar higher.

What do we need to start doing?

•Have an eye on the next step for the student.

•Need to challenge kids to do more and better.

•Learn to not forget about the kids that are in the average category.

•We need to not be settled with mediocrity.

•Make the transitions for kids easier from school to school.

What should we stop doing?

•Nothing was stated.

What is our greatest strength?

•The faculty is caring and dedicated.

•People are often on top of things throughout the school and make sure certain things get done.

•The staff and students often go the extra step to help others.

What is our greatest weakness?

•Need more money to help those who need it.

•Need to compete more for state funding.

As a superintendent, what do you need from me?

•Be strong, consistent, a leader, and keep working on the little things.

•Address problems that need focus.

What can I expect from the parents?

•Support

•Communication

•Help

"Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron" soundtrack is a refreshing mix of pop and Hans Zimmer

The other day while cleaning my room, I stumbled upon my old DVD collection with all the best movies of my childhood. Flipping through the stack, I recalled all my favorite characters and storylines: “Shrek,” “The Iron Giant,” “Toy Story,” “James and the Giant Peach,” and undoubtedly my favorite of them all “Spirit Stallion of the Cimarron.”

Immediately I ran to my TV room and popped the movie in.  The movie was as wonderful as I had remembered. However, one thing stuck out to me this time that I had never noticed before: the music.

The music resonates beautifully with every theme and emotion that the story line conveys.  Upon further research I found that the score was produced by none other than the legendary Hans Zimmer.

For those of you who are not familiar with Zimmer, he created the scores for such films as “The Dark Knight,” Gladiator,” “Inception” and “The Lion King.”  It was all starting to make sense now.

I went online and purchased the soundtrack to “Spirit,” and I’ve been secretly listening to it ever since.  While it may be hard to admit to listening to a soundtrack from a kids movie, I have to make the argument that these musical scores are not just for kids. Great music knows no age, race or gender.

The album starts with alternative rock and pop songs with a driving beat, sung over by Bryan Adams.  A few tracks in we receive a guest appearance from Sarah McLaughlin on the song “Don’t Let Go.”  About two-thirds through the album, the content changes entirely.  However it’s a smooth enough transition that it works, especially in context to the movie.  This is where the work of Hans Zimmer appears.  Epic and nearly overwhelming scores finish out this album strong.

The music on this album really needs to be experienced in order to understand what I’m talking about here.  It’s as epic and touching as the movie itself, which is also worth a viewing.  I would recommend that everyone, regardless of age or gender, immediately purchase both the movie and its soundtrack.  You won’t be disappointed.

This is an absolute 5/5 in my book.

Prom's moves to Michigan Stadium is a step in the right direction

The Dexter prom experience in the past has been all about games and karaoke and no dancing.  Dexter’s prom is not comparable to the traditional prom.  We have cared more about how the “dance floor” has looked like than the dance itself–If you can even call it a dance.

However, this year, the Dexter High School made a step in right direction.  We are having our prom at the Michigan football stadium, which is awesome compared to all of the previous years.

Previously, Dexter’s prom has worked like this: first you buy tickets for you and your date for seventy dollars.  Next, you rent a $200 tux.  Then you take your date out to a fancy restaurant that costs way too much money.  Then you and your date go to the prom.

This process for prom night is normal.  However, Dexter’s prom differs from the norm.  Instead of keeping the night classy and going to the dance at a specific venue, we go back to our school, where we play games like putt-putt golf and card games.  Most of our prom is spent walking around and waiting in lines for our favorite games.  And in my opinion prom was a huge waste of money, to dress up and play games.

Finally, Dexters prom will be like other schools prom, where it will actually be a dance instead of like a “carnival”.  I definitely support the change in venue as well as the change in prom style.