TIME Education

How My High School Lunch Lady Helped Me Get Into Princeton

Be nice to your lunch ladies, people

This is the story I tell whenever someone asks me how I got into Princeton, mostly because that question is always awkward and begets SAT score questions, which isn’t a very exciting topic. Anyway, back to 2003.

We had an array of hall monitors in my high school, most of whom were older women who had retired or wanted a relaxing not-quite full-time job. Some were moms of classmates, others locals. They were all generally friendly, some a little cranky and more on the disciplinarian side.

One though, Rose, was the sweetest woman. She would always chat us up at lunch, make sure we were staying out of trouble, ask how classes and sports were going. Just a really friendly lady who knew we were good kids and cared about our success. We didn’t know much about her other than that she was the “cool” one and took a liking to us. We appreciated that.

Come spring semester senior year, everyone is waiting on college admissions and Rose knew that I had applied early to Princeton. Around the week or so that you’d expect to hear back, she would ask me every single day. “Lev, did you hear from Princeton? Did you get in?” Without fail, every single day. She took an interest, but this was a bit much for me. “Rose, I’ll tell you when I know.”

One afternoon that week I came home early because I had a few free periods toward the end of the day and didn’t have sports practice or anything after school. I peeked in the mailbox and found a big fat letter from Princeton. Good sign. Open it up and the first word is “YES!”

Naturally, I was a pretty excited 17-year-old and drove back to school to tell everybody. It was still the middle of a class period so nobody was around. Except, of course, Rose, hanging out by the main hallway door.

“ROSE! I GOT IN!”

“I know! I’m so excited for you!”

“Huh? What do you mean, you know?”

“It’s been killing me these last few days not telling you, but I’ve known for the last week. That’s why I’ve been asking you every day.”

Ummm…what?! You’re the lunch lady, the hall monitor. What could you possibly know about my college admissions before I do? Isn’t that kind of sensitive information?

Turns out, before Rose retired she was the executive assistant to an important and wealthy business person who also happened to be a Princeton alumnus and had some power in the University.

When she found out I applied and it was around admissions time, she made a phone call to her good friend and former boss. He made his own phone calls and reported back that I got in, apparently on my own. I’ll never know if I got in on my own or not, but Rose and everyone else are convinced I did. I get the feeling that if I hadn’t, this guy would have changed that for Rose.

Either way, when people ask how I got into Princeton I tell them my lunch lady got me in. Or at least she would have had the need arisen.

Be nice to your lunch ladies, people. They’ll get you into college.

Lev Berlin graduated Princeton in 2007 and runs the food software business ReciPal.

This article originally appeared on Quora.

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TIME Google

Google Is Bringing Virtual Reality to the Classroom

Sundar Pichai, senior vice-president of Products for Google Inc., speaks during the Google I/O Annual Developers Conference in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, May 28, 2014. Google Inc. executives are taking the stage this week to talk about a plethora of new technologies, including automobiles, home automation, digital TV, Web-connected devices and a new version of Android. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Sundar Pichai
David Paul Morris—© 2015 Bloomberg Finance LP Sundar Pichai, senior vice-president of Products for Google Inc., speaks during the Google I/O Annual Developers Conference in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, May 28, 2014.

Super-cheap VR has found a home

In 2014, Google made a virtual reality viewer out of cardboard. In 2015, it’s turning it into a teaching tool for school classrooms.

The Google Cardboard headset, which is mostly made out of cardboard and works with Android phones and special apps, turned out to be a hit beyond just a gimmick at the company’s developer conference last year. Clay Bavor, Google vice president of product management said on-stage at this year’s Google I/O conference Thursday that it’s shipped more than 1 million cardboard headsets in the past year. There are also hundreds of cardboard-compatible apps in Google’s app store.

But now, Google is bringing is cheap and easy set to the classroom, helping teachers take their students on virtual field trips with Cardboard units, mobile devices, and software.

Dubbed “Expeditions,” Google’s program is partnering with organizations such as the Planetary Society and the American Museum of Natural History for content. Through Expeditions, teachers will receive a kit for their classrooms which will include cardboard viewers for each student, Android phones, a tablet, and pre-installed software that will keep all the viewers synced together. All the teacher has to do is get the virtual field trip going on their device to send the whole class on a trip together.

Bavor also said Google is releasing a new version of its cardboard viewer, which will now support phones with 6-inch displays and all Android phone models (it previously only fit certain ones). It will also only require three steps to assemble instead of 12.

TIME Chris Christie

Chris Christie to Pull New Jersey Out of Common Core

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Julio Cortez—AP New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

The move could help Christie in his quest for the Republican presidential nomination

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will announce Thursday he is pulling his state out of the Common Core education standards, bowing to pressure from teachers and parents, as well as conservative fears about government overreach.

Christie, who is expected to declare his candidacy for President in the coming months, began a review of the standards a year ago, just as the issue began bubbling up in town-hall meetings in New Jersey and on the campaign trail.

Developed as a bipartisan proposal by state governors and states’ chiefs of schools six years ago, Common Core has become increasingly toxic politically among conservatives. Several Republican governors who initially supported the Common Core have backed out in recent years, and others have worked hard to distance themselves from it.

Christie’s announcement comes the same day that a lawsuit regarding Common Core, initiated by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who once supported the standards, was heard in a Baton Rouge court. Jindal is suing the U.S. Department of Education for allegedly “coercing” states into adopting Common Core by tying $4.35 billion in federal funding from Race to the Top, and waivers from No Child Left Behind, to the adoption of high standards.

The Obama Administration has moved to dismiss the case on the grounds that states were never required to adopt Common Core in particular, but instead to adopt any “rigorous standards” of their choosing. Forty-six states signed onto Common Core after it was finalized in 2010.

“It’s now been five years since Common Core was adopted. And the truth is that it’s simply not working,” Christie will say in a speech at Burlington County College in New Jersey on Thursday afternoon. “It has brought only confusion and frustration to our parents. And has brought distance between our teachers and the communities where they work.”

The move sets up a contrast between himself and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who remains a supporter of the standards. While Bush has distanced himself rhetorically from the policy, choosing not to use the words Common and Core, his education foundation helped fund and advocated for their implementation nationwide. Ohio Governor John Kasich, a likely GOP contender, has also stood up in defense of Common Core, condemning those in his party who have turned their back on them.

“Sometimes things get to be political and they get to be runaway Internet issues,” Kasich said in New Hampshire in March. “We don’t want the federal government driving K-12 education, and in my state — the state of Ohio — that is simply not the case.”

The reversal comes as Christie’s political fortunes are at a crossroads. His poll numbers have continued to wane from the lingering effects of the politically motivated closure of approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge and a weak fiscal picture in the Garden State. But Christie is pegging his hopes for success on New Hampshire, the libertarian-minded state where the Common Core standards are especially divisive.

Christie is tasking David Hespe, the commissioner of the state’s department of education, to lead a panel that will develop a new set of standards for the state.

“I have heard far too many people — teachers and parents from across the state — that the Common Core standards were not developed by New Jersey educators and parents,” Christie will say according to prepared remarks from his office. “As a result, the buy-in from both communities has not been what we need for maximum achievements. I agree. It is time to have standards that are even higher and come directly from our communities. I agree. It is time to have standards that are even higher and come directly from our communities.”

Common Core has also been a major bone of contention in Democratic states, where opposition to the standards is linked to objections to an uptick in standardized testing. Last year, Chicago schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett tempted federal sanctions by announcing that she did not intend to force her students to take the tests associated with Common Core. Tens of thousands of New York State students also opted out of the Common Core testing regime.

TIME Education

Chinese Nationals Accused of Vast SAT Cheating Conspiracy

They helped foreign students cheat on college entrance exams, according to an indictment

A group of 15 Chinese nationals are accused of orchestrating a vast conspiracy to help foreign students cheat on standardized college entrance exams administered in the U.S., in what appears to be one of the more brazen testing-related scandals in the past decade, according to a federal grand jury indictment unsealed Thursday.

For the past four years, the defendants provided counterfeit Chinese passports to impostors, who then sneaked into testing centers, mostly in western Pennsylvania, where they took the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), or the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), while claiming to be someone else, according to the indictment.

It’s unclear how many students used these fraudulent test scores to gain admission to American colleges and universities, and to therefore illegally obtain F1 Student Visas.

“These students were not only cheating their way into the university, they were also cheating their way through our nation’s immigration system,” said special agent John Kelleghan of Homeland Security Investigations in Philadelphia. “HSI will continue to protect our nation’s borders and work with our federal law enforcement partners to seek out those committing transnational crimes and bring them to justice.”

A federal grand jury in Pittsburgh issued an indictment on May 21 on 35 charges, including conspiracy, counterfeiting foreign passports, and defrauding the Educational Testing Services (ETS) and the College Board, according to U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

If the defendants are found guilty, they face a maximum total sentence of 20 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

TIME Education

When the National Spelling Bee Returned From Its Wartime Hiatus

On May 27 and 28, 2015, the nation's best young spellers continue a tradition that began in 1925

Like many other nonessential activities, the Scripps National Spelling Bee took a hiatus during World War II as energy and resources were directed toward the war effort. When the competition returned in 1946, LIFE dispatched a photographer to capture the contest. Though the photographs were never published, historical records state that the Bee that year was held in Des Moines, Iowa, and its champion was John McKinney, who correctly spelled the word “semaphore” (noun, French origin, definition: “a system of sounding messages by holding the arms or two flags or poles in certain positions according to an alphabetic code”).

This year’s bee will be held May 27 and 28. The words appear to have increased in difficulty over time — therapy, initials and dulcimer in the 1940s compared to appoggiatura, guetapens and feuilleton in the last decade — but the contestants’ expressions of puzzlement, exasperation and triumph are timeless.

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.

TIME Culture

How to Bridge the Generational Gap and Succeed at Work

jo piazza lucy sykes knockoff
Penguin Random House

Jo Piazza is a writer, editor, and co-author of The Knockoff.

You can learn something from the other generation

I’ve been the youngest person in the room. I’ve been the only one in jeans and a hoodie while everyone else wore power suits. I laughed when someone mentioned a fax.

I’ve also been the oldest. I have been completely left behind during a conversation about the benefits of Meerkat versus Periscope. I once had to ask what Tinder was.

I’m almost 35, which means I straddle that weird line between Generation X and millennial. I recently wrote a novel with former-magazine-editor-turned-techie Lucy Sykes, who is 45, about this generational divide in the workplace.

Our book The Knockoff has been called The Devil Wears Prada meets All About Eve meets Silicon Valley, and it tells the story of fashion magazine editor Imogen Tate (who is in her forties) who sees her magazine turned into an app when her young assistant Eve (who is in her twenties) becomes her boss. Even as Eve tries to strong-arm Imogen out of her job, Imogen meets incredible young women in tech who help her bridge the generational divide.

In some ways the book mirrored Lucy and my real relationship. Lucy couldn’t figure out how to edit the documents that I would send her over email. But we figured it out. Lucy paid her 11-year-old son to teach her to use her iPad. We both learned to speak the universal language of emoji. We got over it. Here’s some advice for others in similar situations.

For the younger generation:

1. Show. Don’t tell. Your older boss may think you’re goofing off and wasting time on your phone and social media. They might not understand that you can communicate with clients over text message and search for ideas on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I once had an editor ask me to reprimand an employee because she “never picked up a phone” and was “on her Gmail all day.” She was just using Gchat as her primary mode of communication. Show your boss how you use new tools and platforms so that your boss knows they are a part of your daily work flow.

2. Listen with respect and ask questions. Your older coworker has been working in this industry for so long for a reason, and they have years of institutional knowledge. You can learn from them. Asking questions doesn’t just help you learn, but it also makes your coworker feel valued.

3. Switch up how you communicate. Pick up the phone. Sometimes a phone call will accomplish so much more than a text message. Nuance is lost in text, and a smiley face does not convey tone. If you want to have a healthy working relationship with your older colleagues, make that phone call or pop over to their office. Keep the acronyms to yourself, and let them dictate the kind of language you use.

4. Be patient. The older generation went into their careers thinking they would stay in one place for a long time. That is no longer the case. You may be itching to move up the ladder and onto the next big opportunity, but sit back for a bit, take a deep breath, and don’t let that ambition and eagerness overwhelm you. Sometimes it can be taken the wrong way.

5. Be polite. We know you have manners. But sometimes manners are lost over text and email. It’s worth using pleasantries like “Dear X” and “Sincerely” in emails.

For the older generation:

1. Your next mentor may be younger than you, and that’s OK. When I used to think about a mentor, I thought about Oprah, Gay Talese, and Barbara Walters—all people who were older than I was. But now I look at women in their twenties who are fierce business women, and I think Lauren Conrad or Leandra Medine of the Man Repeller could be my next mentor.

2. Adapt. The old ways aren’t necessarily better; we have just been doing them longer. Sometimes it’s necessary to adapt, or risk not making it in the industry.

3. Ask for help. Ask your kids. Ask your nanny. Ask those geniuses at the Apple store. Half the battle is knowing what to ask so you can level the playing field.

4. Compromise. Be prepared for change, and be ready to embrace new ideas from this new generation of business leaders. Accept that you are not always going to be right.

5. Learn new ways to communicate. Make sure you get on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. Learn to text and Snapchat. It might seem like a fad, but it will open up amazing in-roads with the younger generation.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

Horace Mann Sex Abuse Probe Blasts School, Finds Dozens of Victims

horace mann prep school
Mark Lennihan—AP This April 22, 2013 file photo shows the Horace Mann school in the Bronx borough of New York.

The investigation said abusers at the elite school included both men and women

A probe commissioned by a group of alumni at New York’s elite Horace Mann School has found that more than 64 students were sexually abused by nearly two dozen faculty and staff between the 1960s and the 1990s—far more than an investigation by the district attorney identified.

The investigation, led by former judge and sex-crime prosecutor Leslie Crocker Snyder, said the abusers at the leafy campus in the Bronx included both men and women—and students were sometimes molested by more than one staffer. Although most of the victims were boys, the investigation identified several new female…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Education

3 Myths About the Gap Year

volunteer-building
Getty Images

A gap year is not a vacation

The term “gap year” traditionally applies to the year between high school graduation and college matriculation. For many students, the gap year is a time for adventure and personal exploration. While the gap year has long been an accepted tradition in other parts of the world, it is still growing in popularity in the United States. The reasons that a student might opt for a gap year are various: he or she might feel burned out after more than ten years of school, or he or she might desire a change of scenery and routine. Some students may simply feel uncertain about which direction to take after high school.

A well-structured gap year can inform your college and career path, and it can educate you in ways you might not have imagined. But the gap year you see on television is not always the gap year that you find in reality. Here are three gap year myths that stand in the way of honestly evaluating whether a gap year is right for you. Debunked, they may make your decision process much clearer:

1. A gap year is like a vacation

Your gap year is whatever you make of it. Certain students choose to work, while others complete internships. Some students volunteer, or they travel while pursuing a self-directed education. But each of these options involves effort. A gap year is not a week at the beach.

For instance, consider City Year, an AmeriCorps project that places individuals between the ages of 17 and 24 in high-needs communities across the United States. While you gain a stipend, real-world experience, health care, and access to scholarship money, you do so through completing long hours of challenging – and rewarding – work.

Internships and self-directed education also involve concentrated effort. Internships are like a work-learning hybrid, and they can be an excellent way to explore a potential career field. If you choose to participate in a gap year internship, be sure to do your research first. Look for internships that offer training in specific skills, as well as a reasonable number of hours per week. Beware of “internships” that are actually commission-based sales positions – or schemes that take advantage of your labor and savings.

Finally, websites like Coursera and Udacity offer free or low-cost education around which you can design a gap year. If you are undecided about what you would like to study in college, it makes a great deal of sense to explore various subjects before you begin to pay thousands of dollars a year in tuition. Self-directed education can also help you improve a weak academic portfolio. You can even develop marketable skills via programs like Codecademy. If possible, select those options that offer certificates of completion (or another way of tracking your progress) so you will have demonstrable proof of what you learned during your gap year.

2. A gap year can harm your admissions chances

The effect a gap year has on your college applications depends entirely on how you spend that year. A 12-month gap in your education and/or work history could be a significant warning sign for a prospective school, but if you instead participate in meaningful experiences, your gap year can serve as a significant admissions boon. A gap year can enable you to start college refreshed and eager, and for students with less impressive high school records, it can also be a chance to demonstrate your maturity and dedication to your personal growth.

Some schools, such as Princeton University, have even developed programs that allow admitted students to pursue a year of volunteer work before beginning their traditional college educations. In other words, prospective freshmen submit their applications in their senior year of high school, but they delay starting classes in order to complete a gap year project. Inquire with the admissions departments at your top-choice schools to determine if such a plan exists, or if they have advice for students who are interested in the gap year experience.

3. A gap year is expensive

Certain gap year programs require a significant monetary investment, but there are many opportunities for students who wish to spend less on this experience. For example, if you live at home and work part-time, you can participate in a volunteer project in your free hours. You can also further your education with the (mostly) free resources mentioned above. Delaying college for a year can seem like a daunting opportunity cost (as it also delays your entry into the workforce by a year), but a gap year can ultimately become an excellent long-term investment.

While deciding whether or not to pursue a gap year, work with your high school guidance counselor, as well as the admissions and financial aid departments at your top-choice colleges, to identify the best possible option for you and your goals.

Brian Witte is a professional SAT tutor with Varsity Tutors. He earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University.

TIME Education

How to Turn Elementary School Teachers into Emotional Detectives

apple-books-chalkboard
Getty Images

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Strengthening the bond between educators and pupils can get to the root of behavior problems and bullying

About four years ago, I found myself asking a question many teachers ask their students: “Why would you do something like that?”

I was sitting down with a fourth grade student I had just been asked to counsel. I had success at getting to the bottom of students’ issues and I had earned a reputation as a teacher version of “Columbo.”

The student had been sent to the principal’s office for hurting another kid during recess. The reports were that he had also kicked another student for taking his place in line. I had worked with this student in the past for similar behavior toward peers. Now the behaviors were getting worse, and the parents were not responding. The boy answered my question about his motivations by saying, ¨Students were cutting in front of me,” and, “Two days ago they were calling me names.”

I had this realization that I was expecting the student to somehow psychoanalyze himself and come up with a grand justification for his behavior and actions. -Asking the “why did you do it” question did not help me to solve the issue — and I realized it never would. It was simply a fall-back question for adults when they were not sure what to do.

This was the beginning of my attempts to engineer ways for myself and other teachers to take care of the emotional lives and mental health of our students.

I first knew I wanted to be a teacher when I was in middle school in Michigan. I got paid a $25 stipend for running a basketball clinic with little kids and discovered I was good at motivating students. As I pursued teaching, I moved to California, and became an assistant in a classroom with students that had developmental disabilities, emotional disturbances, and aggressive behaviors. This environment, along with excellent training, challenged me to figure out how to support students with multiple challenges and give them a better quality of life. I currently teach two special needs classrooms at Canalino Elementary School in Carpinteria.

Every good teacher I’ve talked to wants to build better relationships with their students. But lack of time is a major barrier. A typical classroom has 25 to 30 students and if a teacher devoted just 2 minutes to each student, that would add up to an hour every day, which would have to come out of valuable instructional time in this academic-focused (and test-crazy) era. And even if they had time, teachers rarely have the resources to handle social, emotional, and mental health challenges. Improving professional development in this area would help. So would clear, practical, and efficient protocols that are used school wide.

What teachers most need is the ability to teach students strategies and techniques to meet the expectations of a challenging school day. To this end I developed the “Think Time” protocol — a process for identifying student’s needs by connecting their feelings and actions. My brother, a fellow teacher and a mentor to me, and UC Santa Barbara student psychologists worked with me to create a paper-and-pencil form that took teachers through the steps of asking students questions such as “What were you feeling before the problem occurred?” It gave them suggestions to pass on to students—for example, conveying that, “a better choice next time, rather than acting out, would be to ask to speak to the teacher privately.”

Here is a typical example: A student was sent to me after getting multiple warnings for disrupting the math lesson. The teacher reported that the student struggled to sit still and focus, blurting out answers without raising his hand, and was disrupting the students at his table by fidgeting and tapping his pencil. When we began, he was asked to identify his feelings from a chart. He chose energetic, excited, and anxious, which helped me understand his impulsive behaviors. The student then listed the actions that were connected to his feelings— in this case, (blurting out and fidgeting). Once I better understood the feelings that motivated his actions, I realized he just needed to choose a more socially appropriate way to cope with his feelings. We settled on having him discreetly step outside the classroom, take a 3 minute break to move around, and return to the lesson ready to try again.

Of course, not everything was smooth when I began to roll this program out at my school. Teachers struggled to find the time to sit down with students and go through the process. They had trouble finding the right replacement behaviors, and struggled to understand the true purpose of the process.

So we improved the protocol by providing training to teachers that explained the rationale, created and implemented lessons for students, revamped the questions teachers should ask students, hired mentors to assist the teachers, and made the process digital.

After these tweaks, teachers reported that students were using replacement behaviors which increased instructional minutes and improved communication with parents. But we also realized that we were only reaching the students with chronic disruptive behaviors (typically 2-5 kids per class). What about the needs of the other students?

Students with difficult behavior are not the only ones who struggle emotionally. Students often internalize feelings and lack the ability to express there needs appropriately, which makes it nearly impossible for teachers to recognize what is motivating their actions. We tested a “positive version of Think Time,” where all students could record things they were proud of, or simple acts of kindness that showed good citizenship.

From there, we developed the “check-in system.” This system teaches students how to reflect on their feelings routinely and to express them appropriately to get their needs met.

Our helloyello.net web app allows students to let teachers know what’s going on in their lives good or bad, wrong or sad, daily. And the app gives teachers the opportunity to “close the loop” quickly — within seconds— to strengthen their relationships with students.

The results have been stunning. For instance, a teacher recently shared with me that her student checked in that she was struggling to stay awake at school because her baby brother’s crying was keeping her up at night. The teacher closed the loop by letting the student know she had read her check in and asked if she could email her parents. The teacher sent a friendly email to the parents, who in turn were grateful and quickly solved the problem at home.

“Check-ins” are particularly good at addressing bullying. Students feel safe reporting problems on the playground or in the bathroom since they can confidentially reach their teachers without having to tell them face to face, in view of the bully. In one example, a student wrote about feeling bad because he participated in teasing someone; teachers, armed with additional information, are able to step in before the conflicts escalate.

Our HelloYello team is confident our procedures can help other schools in California. My school, Canalino Elementary is a Title I school, meaning at least 40 percent of students come from low-income families. Many of our students are also English language learners, requiring us to take extra care to find ways to make sure the kids understand the questions and the behaviors expected of them. Of course, schools better off than ours also struggle with the emotional well being of their students.

Taking care of our students’ social and emotional health isn’t an end just in itself. Research studies have shown that social and emotional well-being has a significant impact on student achievement. Teaching students to express themselves appropriately, with reasoning and evidence, is a recurrent theme in the Common Core Standards. Teachers cannot help students achieve their academic potential or demonstrate how much they’ve learned if they do not know how the students are feeling, what they are thinking, and what’s going on in their daily lives.

Brandon Sportel has been selected as the Carpinteria district teacher of the year, and Santa Barbara County teacher of the year. He was the California winner of this year’s Milken Educator Award.. He wrote this for “Reimagining California,” a partnership of the California Endowment and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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