Faith in Crisis: Lessons from Immaculee Ilibigeza

The following multimedia journalism entry by Geneva Ng examines the lessons and experiences shared with the Our Lady of Lourdes community by Immaculee Ilibigeza, a survivor of the Rwandan Genocide.

Junior Year Survival Guide: AP Edition

By Geneva Ng and Kaitin LaRosa

This advice is especially important if you’re taking a lot of AP classes, or need to dedicate a lot of time to studying. The SATs are offered once a month in August, October to December, March, May, and June. Take the SAT in September. You may be asking, “Why so early? I just got here.” Later in the year when you’d typically be expected to take the SATs, your AP classes will start getting demanding. The workload will get heavier because AP exams are coming up. You’ll be studying for AP midterms, too. And, at this point, a lot of high-achieving kids are nearly burnt out. They don’t have as much drive in them as they did in the beginning of the school year. So, take the SATs in the beginning of the year while you still have hope in your eyes and strength in your heart. You’ll be under way less stress, and you have plenty of time to retake it if it doesn't go so well.

Summertime Sadness

If you’re nervous about the upcoming stresses of junior year, utilize the free time you have over the summer to get ahead now. Do your summer homework, get a head start in the class, get things like studying for the SAT out of the way now so you don’t feel so stressed about it later. Your future self will thank you.

On the other hand, don’t feel guilty about relaxing just because you’re not being productive at that moment. You don’t need to be doing this or that to please colleges 24/7. It’s good for your mental health to take a day, week, or maybe even a month off. Who knows, with all that free time you might discover you have a profound connection to the art of juggling or another hobby of the sort and the passion you uncover may lead you to your best self. (Additionally, colleges love when you follow your passions. It shows dedication).

If you’re looking to pad your college education or genuinely want to spend your summer doing something interesting, start looking into summer programs in December. Some selective ones require applications (don’t worry, one paragraph and you’re in) that can be due in February, March, and April.

Realities of being an AP Student

There will be weeks where you will have to face the day with only 4 hours of sleep to keep you going. By Friday, you will be a walking corpse. However, sometimes it’s better to go to bed and get up earlier the next day to finish what you have to do than to try to work through pure exhaustion when you don’t end up remembering anything anyway.

  • If you’re used to getting straight 100’s, you’re in for a surprise. This may be the first year you see a grade lower than an 80 on a test you thought you did well on. This is the nature of the material of AP Classes, but you will start to learn how to secure as many points as possible as the year goes on.

  • You’ll spend anywhere between 1-6 hours a night on homework. Since we’re talking numbers, you’ll have between 18-22 hours of testing waiting for you at the end of the year between course finals, regents, and AP exams. It’s a long haul until the very end.

  • You may have a few, or several, mental breakdowns. This is ok. We are all human; even the valedictorians will break at some point. We are glow sticks; we have to break before we can shine.

  • Furthermore, it’s ok to seek help from a therapist. A lot of people see one; it’s completely normal.

AP Studying Tips

Always ask, “Is this going to be on the test?” Work smarter, not harder, and only focus your precious, precious time on studying what you need to. If you have extra time, by the will of God, simply skim everything else just in case. This will allow you to know exactly how to pass the test and save enough time to get a good amount of sleep the night before. This is especially relevant to AP classes because there’s a constant flow of information being power-hosed at you at almost all times, and it can seem overwhelming when it’s time to study. Some teachers may also spend a huge amount of time talking about a topic that isn’t on the test, so don’t let lecture time fool you. Ask, and study accordingly.

Find out who’s good at math. Find out who’s good at physics or chemistry. Find out who’s taking the same classes as you. Find out who already had that class last year, or that teacher last year. Get their number, get their snapchat, get on their good side. They’re going to be your last hope at 11:53 p.m. the night before a quiz on some topic you completely don’t understand. Students tend to learn better from a friend they can have a conversation with. Find people who you’re comfortable talking with that can help you where you struggle. This is one of the key ways to succeed in a year where everyone’s true strengths...and weaknesses... start to show. Likewise, be there to offer help to friends you see struggling. You never know how much they could need your help, and teaching the material to someone else helps you understand the material even better. Also, they could totally pay you back in the future with some help of their own.

Hunt and Gather to Survive

The teaching styles of some teachers may not work well with your learning style, so you’re going to have to teach yourself some topics from time to time. Browse through Youtube, and google the topics that are on the homework. Hunt for tutorials and explanations online and gather as much information as you, personally, need to understand what’s going on. Some personal favorites of ours have been: Khan Academy, Dan Fullerton, Jocz,, Quizlet. You’re welcome.

Kaitlin’s Advice

While it’s good to be mentally prepared for junior year to be harder than the last, keep in mind that this has been true for every new grade you enter in school. So think twice before buying into the classic stigma that junior year is the hardest year because your success next year is all about the mentality that you enter the year with, and try your best to maintain throughout. You learn to adapt to the pressure. It all balances out.

Compare yourself only to your past self, not other people! At the end of the day, take the classes that are right for you. Don’t feel like you have to take a certain number of APs just because so-and-so is. As long as you are doing your personal best, that is all really matters.

Review Book Recommendations

  • AMSCO US History: Prep for the AP Exam: Amazon prime this bad boy the week before school starts and use it chapter by chapter throughout the year to help you pass both the weekly tests and the big exam at the end of the year. This you can use as your primary learning tool.

  • ASAP US History: This is good for a night-before cram, but don’t learn from it. Review with it.

  • Physics: The Physical Setting: In classes such as AP physics where you need to have a good grasp on basic “regents” concepts quickly in order to comprehend the same material at an AP level, I found it particularly helpful to use this book as a supplement for understanding the basic concepts of a particular topic before the difficulty level increased.

Junior Year Survival Guide

by Anthony Basilone

Coming into junior year, I was constantly told by my siblings, parents, teachers, and other students that it was going to be the hardest year of high school. Dubbed as “the year of no sleep” by some, junior year was a source of much anxiety as I left sophomore year. As I began to sign up for college and AP courses, I was never sure how many I could handle and how many would prove to be too much. I knew the school year was going to be important, as it is the most important school year for the college application process and the threat of exams such as the SAT and ACT loomed over my head. Now I am more than halfway through junior year and I have learned a lot, but there are still things I wish I was told before making course selections and preparing for the hardest year of my life so far.  Below is a compilation of advice for incoming juniors from a few fellow current juniors and seniors.

  1. Sleep. Put the APUSH book down, put the math worksheet away, and turn off the physics review video. Have a set time every night when you go to sleep. Being on a strict sleep schedule may sound frivolous, but study after study has proven that over-studying and cramming are both ineffective and getting a good night’s rest improves academic performance.

  2. Talk to school counselors about which courses are the best for you. Do not feel pressured to take classes because your friends are taking them, or because they are the most rigorous and you think they will make your chances of getting into a prestigious college higher. Take any opportunity to take classes that interest you and courses you think you can excel in. Performing better in the classes you take is more impressive than performing at a subpar level in difficult classes.

  3. Sports, clubs, and extracurricular activities can still be enjoyed while taking difficult and time-consuming courses. As long as you have a sleep schedule and are good at managing time and staying organized, you should not quit sports and clubs because of the heavy workload.

  4. Take the SAT more than once if necessary. My friends and I have found that an effective way to tackle standardized tests effectively and to get the best score available is to take them once to practice and see how well you can do, and if you want your score to improve, take them again. You are not limited to taking these seemingly “life-defining” tests only once. Also, utilize tutors and after-school programs for review and attend extra help to perform at your best.

  5. Start college research now. If you are a sophomore, one of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to not wait until the last minute to begin college-searching, touring, and researching. You do not need to make any concrete decisions about which schools you want to go to, but having an idea of the type of school which you think fits you best and doing research on schools in this category can only help. Don’t wait until the end of junior year to begin this process.

Junior year is generally regarded as the hardest year of high school, and this is for a good reason. The workload is heavy, the amount of testing required increases significantly from sophomore year, and students usually find themselves staying awake all night to study. The amount of stress and pressure on a junior student can sometimes seem like too much, so I hope you can take these pieces of advice and use them wisely.

The Gift of a Stuffed Animal

By Ellie Keating

If you were to ask a child to show you his or her most special toy, you would probably be presented with a stuffed animal. Children bond with stuffed animals more than they do with other toys, as their soft and cuddly nature provides feelings of comfort and security. As kids grow up, they no longer see any use for these toys and get rid of them. Some people give their old stuffed animals to young relatives. Others sell them at yard sales or garage sales, or on popular retail websites like Ebay or Amazon. Some find that their old stuffed animals may not be worth enough to sell and don't have anyone in their personal lives to give them to, so they decide to donate them to charity shops such as the Goodwill or Salvation Army. However, many of these stores can only take new or professionally cleaned stuffed animals for fear of allergens or tiny parasites being contained in the stuffed animals’ fur. This leaves many people wondering, “What should I do with my old stuffed animals?”

That’s where the Teddy Bear Brigade comes in. The Teddy Bear Brigade is a program launched by Gleaning for the World, a nonprofit organization that provides aid of all kinds to those in need and has repeatedly been named “Most Efficient Large Charity in America” by Forbes Magazine. They collect new and gently-used stuffed animals, wash and clean them, and donate them to children in distress all around the world. Some of the recipients of these toys have lived in poverty their entire lives and have never had a toy of their own, while others have lost everything they had in natural disasters. All children who receive a stuffed animal from the Teddy Bear Brigade have one thing in common: they are in desperate need of a friend. According to the organization’s website, “A stuffed animal is not just a toy. A stuffed animal is a friend and confidant. By listening to how children interact and talk with their new friend, parents are able to get insight into how children are processing the trauma. This insight allows parents to help address their children’s emotional needs.” The Teddy Bear Brigade collects about 50,000 stuffed animals each year and tries to ship a whole pallet (16 large boxes containing about 1,000 stuffed animals in total) with each load of medical and disaster supplies, according to Michael Justice, the organization’s director. Justice has stated, “[Stuffed animals] are such a wonderful therapeutic device for children. I have seen the eyes of children light up when they are handed one.” The Teddy Bear Brigade accepts donations by mail and in person at their headquarters in Concord, Virginia. For more information on the organization or to hold your own stuffed animal drive, visit their website at