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FOCUS Editors of the Past Decade

A Note from the Editors’ Desk:

As we reflect on the past decade on a national and global level, we thought it would be fitting, as per FOCUS tradition, to also highlight some memories from the past ten years of our school newspaper. Current Editor-in-Chief, Sophia David ‘21, contacted every student who has held the position of Editor over the past decade, and we are tremendously grateful that so many of them responded with wonderful insights, which are included in this article. These quotes are a testament to the transformative and long-lasting effects of working on our beloved, time-honored newspaper and emphasize the visionary leadership our newspaper has seen throughout the past ten years. We can only hope that in ten years from now, at the dawn of the ‘30s, a group of future journalists will contribute to the next decade issue with FOCUS memories, new successes, and stories to share.

We asked these past editors the following questions:

What was the most significant event at FCS during your time there?

What was one of your favorite articles published in Focus while you were a student?

Did you apply any of the skills you learned from Focus after graduating from FCS? If so, what were they?

Is there anything you would like to share with the FCS community about your life now?

Benjamin Yahalomi, 2010-11

1) The most significant event during my tenure at FCS was the retirement of long-time headmaster David Felsen at the conclusion of my senior year. Mr. Felsen defined the school in many ways during his 23 years as Headmaster at Friends' Central, including my entire tenure at the school from 5th - 12th grades. He truly believed in the Quaker values of integrity, equality, simplicity, and community. He was supportive of many endeavors at the school, including being a strong advocate for the athletics program. He was a quiet leader who nonetheless had a big voice and inspired confidence when he spoke. I had the pleasure of meeting with him on several occasions during my time at the school.

2)As a senior at Friends' Central, we published a retrospective on the retiring headmaster, David Felsen. The article was written by myself and the editor-in-chief of Focus, Matthew Karliner. We conducted an extensive interview with Mr. Felsen in his office to learn more about his background, his impact over the years at FCS, and his plans for the future. It was a wonderful discussion, and I enjoyed learning from a leader who had been involved in campus life for so long.

3)Yes, I applied both the hard and soft skills I learned from Focus after graduating. Firstly, I applied the strong writing and editing skills that I learned from serving as a member of the Focus team in my academic and career pursuits. I continue to apply the writing skills in my career as a consultant, where I frequently need to synthesize complex information for clients. Secondly, I applied the leadership skills I learned from Focus in many different areas. Serving as editor-in-chief was a great leadership opportunity that taught me how to successfully manage a team to deliver a cohesive solution, often within a defined timeframe. This has been useful to date in numerous endeavors, including my academic and career pursuits. It has made me a better leader in different arenas, including as a member of a junior board at an educational non-profit, BlueEngine, and as a consultant at EY.

4)My life has changed since I left FCS, but I will always appreciate the wonderful community that I was a part of at Friends' Central. I went to college at Penn following graduation and have since moved to New York City to pursue a career in consulting. I remain in touch with several of my classmates from my time at Friends' Central and attended my five-year reunion a few years back. Friends' Central is a special place and a special community, something I've appreciated more since I've left. I'm glad for the opportunity I had to be a part of Focus while at school.

Keira Sultan, 2011-12

1) During my sophomore year there were two tragedies that occurred in our grade within one month. I have a strong memory of a meeting that the teachers held with our grade during that time. It was very powerful to feel the love and support within our grade and community during that difficult time and watching everyone come together for one another.

2) I can't think of any specific articles, but I remember always loving the "artist in the spotlight" section which highlighted one or two students and their artistic projects. I remember finding it very inspiring to hear about the creative endeavors that fellow classmates were working on outside of the school day.

3) Yes, I definitely have! I think that writing for Focus really sparked my interest in interviewing and strengthened my ability to creatively transform and structure those interviews into comprehensive works, which is essential to the work I do now as a documentary filmmaker and editor.

Oliver Goodman, 2012-13

1) The most significant event during my time at Friends' Central had to have been when Rachel Brotman '13 brought her Segway to school and rode it around campus. The teachers were very upset, but only because she wasn't wearing a helmet.

2) I started out writing for Focus when my older sister roped me in while writing an article called When Our Parents Killed Our Dog on Christmas. I think the title speaks for itself. The Hocus issues were also always my favorite, and I was always so excited to see what our writers would come up with.

3) Focus taught me a lot about project and people management, and I really do believe I still use many [of those] skills today. One of the incredible things about Friends' Central (and especially writing for the Focus) is it prepares you so well for writing in college and in the real world. Something I've heard a lot is if you can write, you can do anything, and that's something I really believe in. If you've ever been to a US National Park Service unit, you may have seen a junior ranger program booklet. I'm currently managing the program on a national level, and I use my Focus skills every day to make sure the booklets are being processed, the content is getting developed, and overall, the writers and designers are feeling supported. Another one of my projects is working with teachers around the country in order to create networks that help them use parks as classrooms and living laboratories. A lot of schools that are considered on the forefront of these communities are right on par with FCS. For example, many teachers are now turning to walking meditation and other practices that take me back to 10th grade Quakerism.

4) Let me know if you're ever in DC (or LA or Denver, as I travel there often for work) and want to grab coffee or catch up! Or, feel free to reach out if you're interested in public lands, national parks as places of learning, or if you're considering Wesleyan University. I'm also working on putting together a project that will work with inmate firefighters on learning restoration ecology skills. Specifically, this will target prison inmates who go through firefighter training (about 40% of Ca. state's firefighters are incarcerated) and are unable to get firefighting jobs after release, mainly due to their criminal records. This program will work with them to teach restoration ecology & plant nursery skills and partner with local nurseries on the outside to create a pipeline to jobs in conservation for those newly reentering the workforce. The project is in the planning stages and I'm beginning to put together a board of directors, so if anyone is interested or has any resources they think might be useful, please reach out.

Peter Dissinger: 2013-14

1) In 2014, Craig Sellers announced that the school would be incorporating electronic devices into the curriculum: the iPad was coming to FCS. I’ll be honest, I thought it was a huge mistake – I feared that students would disengage from the classroom and spend their time playing Candy Crush and Angry Birds. I learned later that my fears turned out to be right. Craig, Beth, if you’re reading this, I hope you recognize that what made FCS special was the level of dialogue our teachers and students engaged in on a daily basis. Computers disrupt that dynamic and reinforce millennials’ addiction to screens. Make the classroom a safe haven, where computers are only used on an as-needed basis.

2) When I co-edited Focus, our team took a much different approach to each issue. For almost every issue of my senior year, we brainstormed a brand-new theme to inspire our writers. Highlight themes include investigative journalism, FCS debates, Humans of FCS, and “How does Quaker work?” In these issues, we solicited writing from faculty, asked challenging questions, and pushed the boundary on Focus’ ambition. We wanted to see people reading the paper after we handed it out at assembly and discussing the central topics of each issue. I’m most proud of our Quaker Works issue – in it, we discussed advanced courses, the Quaker Works marketing slogan, the new iPad policy, and the challenge of hiring diverse teachers at an independent school. My senior year was a time of significant upheaval at FCS, so the issue was especially relevant to students at the time. We were constantly challenging the notion that Quaker worked (especially the banner with that slogan on the FCC), and it is cool to have an artifact of the conversations students were having on a daily basis in 2014.

3) Focus inspired me to become an avid writer – it took me to the Wash. U. student newspaper, where I was a staff writer, section editor and editorial board member. There, I joined an even more accomplished team of writers and had the opportunity to write countless editorials. We published twice a week, which made life a bit more hectic, but I loved my section (Opinions) and the content we produced. Without my experience managing a staff at Focus, I likely wouldn’t have been as ready for that job, which I stepped into during my sophomore year.

In addition, Focus taught me a lot about how to capture peoples’ attention. During my years in high school, it took a herculean effort to get students to read the newspaper.

4)A lot has changed for me since I left high school. By far, the biggest thing is that I came out as gay after graduating college. Coming out completely changed my perspective on the world – I spent so much time covering, hiding and trying to fit the image of what I thought society wanted from me. Now, I can celebrate my full identity and embrace every aspect of my queerness. When I went to FCS, there wasn’t as strong an LGBTQ population as there is today. There were strong boundaries between the straight and queer communities. I never fit in with either community and struggled to find my place at FCS. I was too afraid to question my sexuality, because I feared it would leave me isolated and alone in high school. Even though I had phenomenal mentors like Mr. V, I lacked the support from my peers that would have enabled me to come out much earlier. So, if you’re reading this as an ally – step up for your friends and continue to make FCS a welcoming, inclusive and more sexually fluid space. If you’re struggling to figure out your sexual identity, know that you are not alone. You will someday find your place and your people. And if my story is any indicator, your FCS friends will have your back and love you for who you are, whenever you’re ready to tell them your full story.

Emilia Weinburg: 2013-14

1) I think the most significant moment in my time at FCS was when Craig Sellers was hired as headmaster. I think his leading style was quite different than Mr. Felsen, his predecessor. It was very interesting to see how the school differed once he began his job. I think he was much more hands on than Mr. Felsen, which certainly had its pros and cons.

2) My favorite article I published during my time as a Focus editor was an article about whether it is easier to be queer or Republican at FCS. It was part of a larger issue that had articles arguing both sides of popular FCS-centric debates.

3) I think my time at Focus made me a bit more outgoing and willing to ask people questions. These are still skills I utilize on a day-to-day basis. It’s important to have the confidence to approach people!

4) I am currently living in NYC and working as an assistant buyer at Bloomingdale’s. I live with my best friend from Friends Central! :)

Julia Barr, 2014-15

1) A lot happened in my time at FCS, but I guess 14 years is a lot of time for lots of things to happen! I'd have to say when Terry Guerrin put on Angels in America as the school play (although I forget what year that was). If I remember correctly, it was one of the first times a high school had taken on that play, and I think it set an amazing example for what school theatre can do in taking on difficult conversations. Everyone who was a part of that play took on the challenge so well, and the performance really resonated with the whole school community.

2) I still distinctly remember a great article entitled “Is it easier to be gay or Republican at FCS” that came out a year or two into my time at Focus. Not only were both authors incredible writers, but I think the message of inclusivity and acceptance really interrogated the FCS community to the core and asked people to look deeply into how well we were living up to our stated values as an all-embracing school community.

3)Working on Focus was sometimes a challenge in learning how to work with people who think differently from you, but I think leading Focus was a great lesson in how to navigate and appreciate those differences in thought. Definitely an applicable lesson as I continue on in academia (academics love to disagree with each other), but also a generally important life lesson.

4)Funny enough, my time at FCS seems closer than ever these days, even though I'm far away from Wynnewood, PA. I'm currently a graduate student at the University of Cambridge, pursuing a master’s in modern British history, and a couple months ago I stumbled across a Quaker meetinghouse here in Cambridge. I hadn't been to a meeting in over four years, but now I go every Wednesday. I remember FCS graduates would come back from their first year at college and say that you don't appreciate the way that Meeting for Worship structures your week and deliberately builds in time for quiet reflection, but it's something you miss when you no longer have it. I don't think I realized how much I missed it until I started going again, and I really feel right at home.

Zoe Ginsberg, 2016-17

1) I’d say I remember how excited we were when we could hand out the finished product, the semi-annual magazine that was published at the time. There is nothing more satisfactory for a journalist then physical content they are proud of that they can share.

2) One of the biggest things I learned was how to manage people. It’s not easy to monitor people’s progress on their work, but it’s necessary to get things done efficiently. It’s helped me because in school now I am the executive producer of our show on Thursdays, and I manage an entire team of journalists, reporters, and studio crew. My work in Focus helped me obtain and thrive in my role now.

3) In terms of covering a dramatic event, I’d say the most controversial was when a Palestinian speaker was disinvited from speaking to students on campus. It’s always hard to cover issues that are both political and personal, that situation taught me the importance of telling both sides of a story.

Josh Weinstein: 2017-18

1) I think the most significant event at FCS, was the firing of Layla Helwa and Ariel and the student response.

2) I remember writing an article about Jim Rutenberg, who is an FCS alumni. He now writes for The New York Times and visited FCS and talked with the Focus staff about his experiences.

3) Since I did the layout for Focus for three years, I taught myself Adobe InDesign, which is a skill that has been useful for other projects while I was at FCS and in college.

4) I go to an art and design school in New York City, and the transition from FCS to here wasn't too difficult, but it made me realize that FCS is in some ways a bubble. In college you need to be more self-driven, but it's not as big a deal as I think people make it seem.

JB, 2017-Present

As I look upon the past decade of the publication, I am proud of all that has been accomplished. Although I can't point to a single favorite article published during my time, I'll say that it was a special opportunity to cover the renovation of Shallcross Hall from beginning to end with behind-the-scenes progress reports and photographs. Vicky Liu’s article, "Eating in Class: A Yuck or a Yum" from a couple of years ago was also great, and I had a lot of fun writing "The Growing Trend: Long Hair on Males at Friends' Central" although that was received with mixed reactions. Of course, there are countless articles I really enjoyed writing, but which never made it to publication due to their being perceived as too "hot button." As I look to the next decade of FOCUS, I only hope a new group of students finds meaning in student journalism and is able to achieve success and joy in bringing our School's newspaper to its truest potential.

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