60 years of Falcon help produce important changes

January 26, 2020 — by Apurva Chakravarthy

Articles written promote thoughtful discussion on what can be fixed at Saratoga.

For the past 60 years, The Saratoga Falcon has been publishing in hopes of educating students about the people and issues at the school as well as events both local and global. 

While it’s easy to think of big-circulation news outlets such as The New York Times, the Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle as being the only influential papers, The Falcon has also exercised influence in the school’s community, leading directly or indirectly to lasting changes. 

As just one example, The Falcon has written editorials that have pushed for new buildings and changes in the restrooms such as seat covers for toilets in student bathrooms and urinal dividers for boys bathrooms. Other articles pushed for lights for the football field and classes such as Introduction To Business.

In recent years, the newspaper also brought awareness to how Leadership should become an actual class with a period in the school day and how printing in the library should be free. In the past modified block schedule, students had all seven of their classes on Mondays, leading to a lot of weekend homework and stress. The Falcon editorialized in favor of switching to the full block schedule the school now has.

Another major change is “open access” for students to take Honors and AP classes. Prior to open access being the school’s dominant policy roughly two decades ago, qualified students sometimes couldn’t get into advanced classes because of grade barriers. 

The Falcon’s editorials haven’t always succeeded in leading to changes. Notable examples of causes that have yet to come to fruition are solar panels in the parking lot and offering either AP Language and AP Literature at the junior level.

The process of implementing a change starts with the administration examining whether it would be reasonable to do so, assistant principal Kerry Mohnike said. If implementing the change costs money, the administration then checks if they have adequate funding for it. If so, they would be more likely to implement the change. 

In assessing students’ suggestions, the administration considers health and safety, social or emotional balance and equity. 

Mohnike, a former English teacher who served as The Falcon adviser from 1991-1996, said the administration is more likely to agree with the students than disagree because “we’re humans, and we want what you want.” 

Although the school has established several physical changes in response to Falcon news and opinion pieces, the paper has had an even greater impact on the culture in Saratoga over the years.

Looking at the school’s current demographics, it’s hard to imagine a time where there were segregated groups and little diversity at Saratoga. According to Mohnike, in the 1990s, there was an unspoken rule about where students would park based on their race. The divide in the school was mainly between the East Asian and white populations and didn’t include South Asians and other minorities.

Students started to realize these problems after the Rodney King riots, a series of protests and civil disturbances that occurred in Los Angeles in 1992 after King, a motorist, was beaten by police in a video captured and replayed countless times. The officers were later acquitted of wrongdoing, which led to widespread unrest. The newspaper wrote many articles talking about how divided the school was, ranging from articles on diversity workshops hosted by the school, to opinion stories about Asian American heritage at the school.

These articles provoked thoughtful discussions among students as they wondered why the school was so segregated. Asian Americans started to feel more confident in their heritage and culture. 

As an example of the gradual shift in culture, several members of the class of 1996 took their senior photos wearing shirts with “AP BABY” on them, meaning “Asian pride, baby.” Although the letters were airbrushed out, the effort speaks to how The Falcon was part of a complete change in culture in Saratoga, now a diverse, accepting area. 

Arguably some of The Falcon’s most impactful articles came out in the spring of 2013 following sophomore Audrie Pott’s suicide in September 2012. In their stories, three Falcon reporters set out to wrong information in an article written by the San Jose Mercury News, which said that nude photos of her taken at drunken party without her consent had gone viral at the school. Through talking to anonymous sources, reporters concluded that around 10 students saw the photos through texts. The photos were never posted on social media, as alleged in the Mercury News story.

 The three Falcon reporters later received subpoenas from attorneys for the Pott family. They wanted to force the student reporters to divulge their anonymous sources in an effort to find who had actually seen and spread the photos. Ultimately, lawyers, who were working pro bono for the Student Press Law Center, helped the paper fight the subpoena and reinforce the principle that so-called shield laws should protect not only professional journalists but also student journalists, said Falcon adviser Mike Tyler.

“After the situation, the school took on some really hard topics and did some in-depth interviews with students that were dealing with depression and anxiety, so the whole mental health piece started to come up,” Mohnike said. “The newspaper was a big factor in talking about things like whether CASSY is helpful.”

Mohnike added that a few years later, The Falcon published an article in which a student outlined her experience with therapists and CASSY to deal with her mental health issues. It was bold to print articles about those issues at that time because of the stigma around mental illnesses, Mohnike said.

Whether it be about diversity, mental health or the need for toilet seat covers in the bathroom, The Falcon has been informing for the past 60 years. It hopes that readers will become increasingly knowledgeable about the communities they live in, one article at a time.

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