Guest author speaks to students

By Hannah Mock ’20
Members of the Book Bistro Club gather for a group shot during one of their sessions. Credit: Hannah Mock’20/SPECTRUM

Ben Winters, author of the novel “Underground Airlines,” spoke to Book Bistro on Jan. 27. He is an established author, with a science-fiction mystery novel titled “The Last Policeman,” which was picked up by NBC as a TV show. During the talk, Winters spoke about his process and motivation for writing his book.

“Underground Airlines” is an alternate history novel, a genre that revolves around the natural progression of history, but with one or more significant events changed or omitted. His book explores the idea that the Civil War never occurred, and slavery is still legal in four states. Students said they were engaged in Winters’ novel and what he said about his work.

“It is about what today would be like if the Civil War and slavery never happened, and when you really think about it, so much of what we know as America is shaped by the Civil War, and I feel that it is really relevant to society today,” Book Bistro member Jaya Ananda ’20 said.

Winters explained his process in depth and how he needed to make sure he was portraying the black characters in his book correctly.

“It was really interesting hearing him talk about writing slavery and being a white guy and having to do research to make sure it was an accurate voice,” Book Bistro member Derek Weinstock ’20 said.

Librarians and faculty members in attendance said they enjoyed “Underground Airlines” as much as student attendees did. The relevance of “Underground Airlines” to modern society was a prevalent topic, as several questions were asked about it.

“I think Ben Winters said it best when he said it wasn’t just about slavery; it can be a direct link to all forms of modern slavery. I think it sheds light on the way that black bodies are viewed in modern society as less than or as commodity, even in society without traditional Antebellum-style plantation slavery,” librarian and Book Bistro advisor Elaine Levia said.

When the club meeting concluded, students and teachers alike reflected on the event and Winters’ book.

“[Winters] was particularly wonderful about engaging with all students in Book Bistro and answering every question,” Levia said.

Shahidi speaks to students

By Jordan Murray ’20 and Skylar Graham ’20
Shahidi speaks with Carroll, a seventh grade dean. Credit: Jordan Murray ’20/SPECTRUM

Yara Shahidi, who plays the character Zoey on the TV show “Black-ish,” spoke at an all-school assembly on Feb. 6 at the Middle School. The show is about an upper-middle class black family in the U.S. who discusses many topics involving race and culture. During the assembly, Shahidi shared her personal experiences about being in school and getting involved in the community.

“This is really about sharing my personal experience, and if it can help in any way shape or form, then that is the goal because I know my experience is personal to who I am. At the same time I feel like we go through so many similar things just especially as teenagers and with young women of color,” Shahidi said.

Another prominent topic during the assembly was the importance of and reasons why people should celebrate Black History Month.

“Black History Month is extremely important to me because one, Black History is often times excluded from history, and it was eye opening going to the Smithsonian for African American History and seeing how much is left out,” Shahidi said

After the assembly Shahidi spoke with the students in the school’s Black Leadership Awareness and Culture Club. The students had the opportunity to ask Shahidi questions about her career, her interests in Black History and her advocacy for women and minorities.

Shahidi also spoke about the importance of being part of a community that allows people to express their opinions about the world and how it affects them. According to the students, she was very thoughtful and shared relatable experiences of being a student and juggling her acting career.

“I admired the way [Shahidi] spoke so clearly and the way each word that came out of her mouth shouted out confidence in what she believes in,” Lauren Mc Gee ‘20 said.

Students visit Google, Sony

By David Arkow ‘20
Students explore Google. Credit: David Arkow ’20/SPECTRUM

Middle school programming students took field trips to Google LA and Sony Pictures. 38 students went to the Google campus in Venice on Jan. 12. The attendants listened to Google software engineers: Jason Beyer ‘00,  Steve Schwartz and Tammy McLeod give a presentation about their jobs, work projects and the Google offices. After the presentation, students were split into groups and were given a tour led by the Google staff. Students saw the different sections of Google LA including the offices, smoothie bar, cafeteria, gym, game room and more.

Following this, programming students attended another field trip to Sony Pictures in Culver City on Jan. 17, a day off from school. The trip was organized by programming teacher Jessica Kaufman along with the President of Sony Pictures Television, Zack Van Amburg ‘88, P‘20. The visit included a tour inside the animation and story design department by Sony employees. Students were then taught the basics of 3D animation and how to design a story on screen.

“The Sony trip showed me what the future of programming could lead to and what career path I could go down. It showed me what I could do if I took a computer science career,” programming student Will Liu ‘20 said.

Students also visited the filming and sound effect-studio, where they saw the the stages for “Wheel of Fortune”, “Jeopardy!” and a live filming of “The Goldbergs”. They said that one of their favorite parts of the Sony trip was when they used virtual reality headsets.

“I think that it is very inspiring to see what people do. For Sony, we got to see how cutting edge technology impacts entertainment and then at Google we got to see how technology impacts advertising. It is neat to see what kinds of applications there are for technology,” Kaufman said.

‘All in the black-ish Family event held

By Jeanine Kim ’20

“All in the (black-ish) Family” was an event where producers Norman Lear P ’13 and Kenya Barris P ’19 held a panel discussion at the Middle School on Jan 11. The event was held at Saperstein Theatre and was open to the public.

Lear produced multiple sitcoms in the 70s, including “All in the Family,” “Sanford and Son” and “One Day at a Time,” the first being his most critically and commercially successful series. He is credited for introducing topics that were considered unsuitable for television audiences, such as racism, abortion and homosexuality. Due to its groundbreaking treatment of controversial issues, “All in the Family” is lauded as one of the most influential comedic series of all time.

Barris is the producer of the critically-acclaimed television series “black-ish,” and was the co-creator of “America’s Next Top Model” with Tyra Banks. “black-ish” addresses issues that many minorities face in America, both within and outside the sphere of direct racism.

During the event, Lear and Barris spoke about many aspects of the industry, ranging from the influence of the current political climate to television’s push for inclusivity and diversity.

“[The overall message of this event was] to think about issues of race – how races and in particular black people are represented (or not) on TV,” event organiser and Upper School Visual Arts Department Head Cheri Gaulke said in an email.

Clips from their shows were shown onscreen, so audience members could better understand their approaches to dealing with controversial issues. After the mediator finished her set of prepared questions, audience members asked questions as well.

“I think it’s really important for people to learn about race in media because a lot of people aren’t as aware of it, and it can be a rather controversial topic,” event attendee Ava Benavente ’20 said.

Students dress alike for a day

By Khyra Stiner ’21


Eighth grade students participated in a dress up day on Jan. 20 planned by the Middle School Head for a day.

The event was for eighth graders only and consisted of students dressing up as a friend. Eighth graders said that dress up day was a special experience in which friends could get closer to each other.

“It was really fun because it really allowed me to explore my wardrobe because my friend and I don’t wear a lot of the same clothes, ” Hayley Rothbart ’21 said.

The intent of the dress up day was to be more subtle than an all-school spirit day. The event was a bonding experience for students.

The Head for a Day was chosen as an auction prize and was able to plan a social event for the eighth grade. The idea of having a student be the Head of the Middle School was seen as  a unique opportunity that the student gets to be apart of in return for the auction contribution according to Jon Wimbish. The Head was also kept anonymous so that the student was not uncomfortable. They had the opportunity to have a pizza party with Head of Middle School Jon Wimbish and a few friends.

“I enjoy the lighter moments that I get to spend with students, connecting with them, ” Wimbish said.

Wong has second son

By Joanna Im ’20
Wong’s two sons smile for a picture. Printed with permission of Christopher Wong.

Middle School Choral Accompanist Christopher Wong and his wife welcomed their second son, Jude Wong, on Jan. 4. Jude was born at 3:24 a.m. at Westfield Hospital. Wong said that he and his wife put a lot of thought into naming their second child, and made sure to refer to their ancestry when choosing the name.

“We named him after my mother-in-law, whose name is Judy. In order to match his gender, it is Jude, which is the male counterpart,” Wong said.

Because of this new addition to his household, Wong went on paternity leave for two weeks to take care of his family. Wong expressed relief that Jude is getting along with his older brother and joked about his older son’s jealousy for attention.

“My older son is three, and he’s having some complicated emotions about the whole thing. He thinks it’s kind of neat on one level, but he also feels sad that he’s not the only one anymore, so that’s definitely a challenge. But I do think that this is a good way for him to learn to kind of grow up,” Wong said.

Wong returned to school on Jan. 18, and said he has no worries about leaving Jude at home.

“My wife will still be home for a while to take care of him, so I’m not worried, and I’m kind of excited to be back at school and teaching. I missed my students while I was gone, so I’m happy to see them again,” Wong said.

Spectacular Students: Chelsea Cho ’21 Ballerina


By Giselle Dalili ’20
Cho rehearses a variation of Paquita, which is a two minute solo performance. Credit: Uploaded with permission of Chelsea Cho ’21

Chelsea Cho ’21 became passionate about ballet while she was surrounded by the dance scene in New York City. She started ballet when she was in third grade at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School.

“I’m someone who likes to feel beautiful and see pretty things, and while living in NYC I was surrounded by a very ’ballet’ environment, so I immediately fell in love,” Cho said.

Cho said she wanted to be physically and mentally challenged, and ballet seemed to fit perfectly for her. Cho also said she enjoys the opportunity to express herself through dance.

“My favorite part about ballet is being able to interpret classical music with my movement and a guiding story line, and ultimately being able to touch an audience,” Cho said.

Cho said that she has worked hard at the sport for years, and her dance studio is like a second home to her.

“By now, hearing my teachers voice and corrections is so familiar to me and feels like home also,” Cho said.

Cho is working hard in order to place in the top 24 in Youth America Grand Prix semi-finals and make it into the World Ballet Competition Finals in Orlando, Florida. She thinks of her ballet teacher as a source of motivation due to the humbling life story.

“My ballet teacher Olga Tozyiakova is my main inspiration relating to ballet. I admire her for dedicating her entire life to ballet and the amount of passion she holds for it. To start ballet, she had to take money from her mom’s wallet and ride the train alone to a big city to audition at the age of nine, which really shows how much she loves ballet,” Cho said.

Cho said that she hopes to keep doing ballet and hopefully dance at a more professional level in the future.

“I love ballet, and I want to keep at it for the years to come,” Cho said.

Spectacular Students: Clay Skaggs ’20 Magician

By Leila Dall’Olmo ’20


Since he was young, Clay Skaggs ‘20 has been fascinated by the idea of magic and mystery, and he has continued his passion for it over the past years.

“I became interested in magic in fifth grade, when I saw a video of David Blaine doing a trick that involved him sticking an ice pick through his arm,” Skaggs said.

Skaggs cites Blaine as one of his biggest role models when it comes to magic because of his commitment to his craft.

“[Blaine] devotes his life to magic. He put his body and mind at risk for the greater good of magic, and he popularized it using YouTube videos. He gave himself up for magic,” Skaggs said.

After seeing Blaine’s trick on YouTube, Skaggs began practicing and performing tricks for his family and friends in order to improve his skills.

“The first trick I ever performed on someone was when I made a glass disappear in front of my parents. They were really impressed at first, but now they don’t really like my tricks because I practice a lot on them,” Skaggs said.

Skaggs said his talent in magic is not only for fun, but for business as well. He has performed at a few parties so far, and he said he is hoping that soon his business will begin to take off further.

“I have business cards that I hand out to people, to try and get them to hire me. They usually pay around $50-$100 for each party, which I use to buy more tricks. I’ve done two kids parties and three adult parties so far,” Skaggs said.

In addition to his magic business, Skaggs has recently started a club at the Middle School to teach people who are interested how to do magic.


“I wanted to teach people magic, and I thought it would be really fun, so I decided to start the Magic Circle. It meets every Wednesday during break at HC 220, and everyone is welcome to come and learn some skills in magic,” Skaggs said.

According to Skaggs, there has been a turnout of roughly 15 to 20 people each meeting, and the club seems to be growing in popularity.

“I joined [the Magic Club] because I used to be really into magic, and I used to do it a lot as a kid, so I wanted to further pursue. My first impression of the Magic Club was that it seemed like a cool environment to learn and prosper in magic,” Jasper Richards ‘20 said.

Skaggs said he plans to continue magic in the future, and he said he hopes to make his magic club even more popular among students.

“In the future I hope to continue doing magic at events so that I can make money. I also think that being able to do magic as a grandfather or father would be cool, so I can pass it down generations,” Skaggs said.






Community Service: It’s more than just a requirement

By Jessa Glassman ’20 and Jordan Murray ’20

The definition of community service is “voluntary work intended to help people in a particular area.” Over time, this definition has become less and less true because the way we think about community service is evolving. The purpose of community service has transformed from being selfless for the sake of it to being charitable to enhance a college application or fulfill a requirement. People no longer attend charitable events, fundraisers or go help out at organizations. Of those who do help out at a non-profit, it is mostly because they have a requirement or want to seem more giving on their college applications. Community service has gone from something people do on their own merit to help those in need to blindly donating to a cause without taking the time to think about the cause it strives to help.

Community service should be about giving back and helping people in need. Many people only take part in community service organizations to benefit themselves, but they are missing out on the real importance of charitable work. The reason people should be involved in community service should not be to benefit themselves, but it should be because people want to give back to the community and because of a genuine interest in helping out. Partaking in community service should be a true act of selflessness and everyone should strive to make it a goal to give back. This is very applicable to our school community because in most instances we are detached from issues others in our surrounding neighborhoods face. Given our privilege and knowledge, it is our duty to help others. There are so many people in need of aid just around the corner.

At school, some students host fundraisers where they sell donuts, ice cream or other treats to raise money. There are also many drives that benefit children in the area. While these events definitely help the community, they might be less valuable than the donation of time. When students just sign their name on a sheet to buy a sweet treat with their parents’ money, they may not leave feeling as impacted as if they were involving in person with a charity. It is important that we experience what it is like to help in a hands on fashion, rather than just giving money and receiving a reward. This will not only help us more, but also those we are reaching out to. Interaction with other people who have the ability to touch hearts and create lasting memories can be much more valuable than money. Even if students aren’t interacting directly with those in need, sorting clothes or food or doing physical work for organizations can be more impactful and also offers an important lesson. The community service requirement gives students the push that they need to enter the charitable world. It also opens our minds up to thinking about what we can do to help and shows us how other people live and just how fortunate we really are.

In conclusion, community service should not be used to make applications look better and should be more than just about donating money. Everyone needs to realize that it important to use some of their free time to give back to their community. Our school offers students a variety of opportunities to volunteer in after school trips to schools and weekend events where each student has the chance to lend helping hand. It is crucial that not just we, but children everywhere, begin getting involved now so that we can kickstart a generation full of people ready to give back.

Put the price in sight: Do students know what they pay for lunch?

By David Arkow ’20

Most people at movie theaters complain about how expensive the food is, but I never thought that would apply to a school cafeteria. Standing in the lunch area, I heard a student complaining to a friend about being charged $7 for chicken and rice. Unfortunately, this story isn’t just a one-time experience, but it is relatable for most students who purchase food from the cafeteria. While the food in the cafeteria is good quality and convenient, some of its prices are inflated and hidden.

In an online survey sent to the Middle School, nearly 50 percent of 320 respondents said they spend about $10-15 per day on food. Therefore, each student can spend up to $2,500 on food every school year. $10-15 a day is a lot of money compared to the average $2.50 lunch in California public schools. Although the cafeteria at Harvard-Westlake is a private company, this is still a large price gap. Even though some students do not pay much attention to this, it is important to recognize this price difference.

The cafeteria provides a necessary service to students by serving quality food, drinks and snacks. However, the price of cafeteria food is greater than it would be at a regular grocery store.  Over 60 percent of students surveyed said that the cafeteria pricing is too expensive. Price inflation can happen at any place where there is a monopoly on a product like at an airport, amusement park or movie theater. The cafeteria has a captive audience in students and can set up their prices however they want.

While students can bring their own lunches to school, most rely on the cafeteria for food (90 percent of respondents said they eat at the cafeteria). However, the same exact Power Crunch power bar sold in the cafeteria for $2.50 is the same power bar that can be bought from home for around $1.25. The difference is that the cafeteria makes a larger profit than the regular grocery store does (still has to cover expenses of bringing the food to school and paying cafeteria staff). In the survey, nearly 70 percent of students who bring lunch from home said that the reason was because the cafeteria is too expensive.

Regardless of the size of the cafeteria’s profit, the prices should be openly displayed to all students. Over 30 percent of students surveyed said they do not know where to check the prices of cafeteria items. While the cafeteria displays the prices of certain foods (hot food, refrigerated food, drinks), not all of the food has a clear price tag, mainly the snacks (similar brands in a grocery store). The price of the unlabeled food is unknown until the I.D. is scanned. Not displaying the cost of food prevents students from making financial choices when it comes to their food. If the cost of cafeteria items are openly displayed, students can check them and be aware of the price difference. Then students can make a better informed decision about whether it is worth it to pay the extra price that the cafeteria charges rather than bringing the snack from home.

Recognizing the cost of food is a first step for teenagers to become more aware of their financial choices. Some of the cafeteria food is price inflated and its cost is not always transparent. Students should be more careful about the costs of what they are purchasing in the cafeteria. This means checking prices when there are labels and checking when an ID is scanned to see if the food is properly charged according to its price. If there is not a price label on the food, then students can ask one of the cafeteria staff for the price. If one does not care about the price of their food, then they do not have to check the price, but the cost should be openly displayed to all. It is not just important to check prices now, but it is an important life skill. In the future, students will be in charge of their own finances (will not have a parent to pay for them) and will have to manage their own money. Students can learn to check prices now so they are not naive when they are older. However, students cannot learn this skill until all prices are openly displayed on all food items sold in the cafeteria.

While some of the cafeteria food is not cheap, they do not necessarily have to be reduced. There just has to be more transparency about the pricing of the food that we eat 180 days a year and spend up to $2,500 per year on.