Viewpoint: Think twice before you pop this pill

The birth control pill is the most popular method of contraception on the market. According studies done by Guttmacher Institute, 82 percent of all sexually active teenage girls take the pill.

Currently, 16 million American women use the pill; 150 million women worldwide take it, and it fuels a $2.8 billion industry. Birth control opened up the doors of sexual revolution more than 30 years ago, allowing women to freely explore sex without having to worry about unwanted pregnancies. But years later, complications of the pill surfaced. Although people make their own decisions about their bodies, they should be aware of the health problems associated with this form of birth control.

Not everyone who takes the pill is sexually active; it is used for acne treatments, endometriosis, and polycystic ovarian syndrome. But for girls who take the pill to avoid becoming pregnant, the side effects include weight gain, tender breasts, and mood swings. The mood swings occur because the pill provides high levels of estrogen to fool a girl’s system into thinking it’s pregnant, preventing conception. The pill can be dangerous if taken for years on end, without letting the body take a break from the estrogen spike. A woman’s natural cycle has continuous levels of rising and falling estrogen intensities and progesterone. Teenagers who start taking the pill don’t just take it temporarily; they may continue to take them until they are ready to become pregnant, which may not happen for years.
Although the risks of endometrial and ovarian cancer appear to be reduced with the use of oral contraceptives, users face an increased risk of liver, cervical, and breast cancer if it is taken long term, and yeast overgrowth can lead to several complications, according to a study by Women’s Health Connection. The pill increases the risk of gall bladder disease, heart attack, and strokes. The risk cervical cancer rises steadily the longer a woman takes the pill, especially for more than five years. Women who start taking birth control pills in high school have a higher risk of breast cancer than those who start when they are older.
The chances of getting a deadly blood clot are doubled when taking new types of the pill, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal. The higher the dose of estrogen, the higher the risk of blood clots. Companies and doctors promote the pill as a safe and efficient medication to prevent pregnancy, but users risk possible long term complications.

Sexually active girls use the pill because it’s so convenient and easy. But the birth control pill has only a 91 percent success rate, while other alternatives offer up to 99 percent. Other options that are safe and highly effective include male and female condoms, diaphragms, and spermicides. All are proven to work and not cause long-term health risks. The birth control pill also doesn’t prevent STD’s, compared to condoms, which do. The APA (American Association of Pediatrics) recommends teens use certain methods, like condoms, to prevent STDs.

Before you decide to become sexually active in the first place, think about waiting to have sex. Accidental teen pregnancy has devastating consequences. Studies done by Smith College and YWCA of Western Massachusetts show that an unplanned teenage pregnancy is damaging, emotionally and physically. Two out of three pregnant teenagers drop out of school, and seven out of 10 girls don’t even get medical care, like going to a doctor or clinic, within the first three months of getting pregnant.

Teenagers, especially in high school, are going through hormonal changes and mood swings already because of the physical and mental development from being dependent to becoming a self-sufficient young adult. Young people don’t need more emotional and mental stress added to their lives by taking medications to order to have an active sex life.

~julia sexton, co-features director

If you were to vote today, who would you vote for?


left to right: joel mcguire, dylan voss, lindsay schmidtmann, tatjana shields, masahisa takahashi

Joel Mcguire, junior: “I’m currently undecided. Both sides aren’t really appealing to my personal philosophy. If it comes down to who would do the least harm to the country, I’m betting either Hilary or Cruz, but I’m more inclined towards Hilary.”

Dylan Voss, senior: “I’m definitely supporting Donald Trump at this point. Mainly my reasons are [his] immigration policy, but I also really like his tax policy. I think he brings a lot more to the table than any of the other Republican candidates.”

Lindsay Schmidtmann, senior: “I would vote for Bernie Sanders. I’m in government right now, so I know a lot about the different candidates, and he’s the one that’s the easiest to understand and the one with the most logical views on things.”

Tatjana Shields, sophomore: “It would be between Bernie Sanders and Hilary. Both of them are strong candidates, but they haven’t really spoken to me. I feel like Hilary would be more effective because she knows more regarding diplomacy.”

Masahisa Takahashi, sophomore: “It would be between Bernie Sanders or Ted Cruz. Bernie Sanders [wants] to help people he just doesn’t know how to do it. Ted Cruz because he’s on the ball and he does have the right ideas and will come in and do some good.”


Students learn by doing in ecology class

From studying dwarf galaxies to mating fruit flies, students have many options to study science at FHS, but one class, ecology taught by Deborah Fisher, is growing increasingly popular among students.

“This class is very hands-on. We look at ecosystems, how they function, and human impact on those systems,” Fisher said. “It’s all about studying how greatly the environment can impact us, and in turn, how greatly we can impact the environment.”

Fisher believes in the importance of bringing students out from behind desks and into the ecosystems they are studying. With trips to the school pond and local streams to take water sample tests and studying plant and animal life, students are able to learn by seeing how the various components of an ecosystem interact. Fisher suspects that nutrient levels are too high in the school pond for certain animal life, and she plans to continue testing these levels with her classes.

Fisher hopes that once the class determines the nutrient levels, her students will find a way of lowering them. For example, adding plants to the pond will help remove nutrients.

“My favorite part of ecology class is being able to go outside and actually observe the environment,” senior Catie Story said. “It raises awareness to what’s going on around us that we don’t often pay any attention to.”

In ecology, students study the reasons for species extinction and the causes of pollution and what needs to be done to stop it. The preservation of the environment is up to humans, and this class draws attention to the importance of this preservation. Students study a range of topics from little things, like micro-bacteria found in the stream water of Fauquier County, to huge events like the killing of thousands of dolphins off the coast of Taiji, Japan.

“I want students to understand that one person can make a difference. I am one person, and I’m hopefully opening other people’s eyes to the impacts that we have,” Fisher said. “I want them to understand how ecology is tied to economics and political decisions. They are the people that are going to be making those economic and political decisions, and I want them to have a background in natural resources so that they can make good educated decisions and have the resources to make those educated decisions.”

Fisher’s goal is to prepare students to make decisions that will impact the environment beneficially.

“I have definitely become more aware of my ‘ecological footprint’ because of this class,” Story said. “Ecology class has affected my daily life in that I constantly find myself stopping and re-thinking decisions that would’ve been potentially harmful to the environment.”

Students also study how people can improve the environment. The ecology classes are in charge of the school’s recycling program, and students collect all recyclables within the school, sort them depending on material, and prepare them to be sent to a recycling plant. The recycling program is thriving, and Fisher hopes that it’s raising awareness of the importance of reusing materials.

“It was a cool experience to be able to help with school recycling,” senior Lindsay Schmidtmann said. “It was nice to be able to feel like I was making a difference, not only for our school, but also for the environment. I had never really done anything with recycling previously, but once I got involved with it in ecology, it inspired me to recycle at home, as well.”

Fisher’s ecology class is rooted in awareness; she wants her students to know what’s going on in the world around them and to love the environment as much as she does.

“I’m a tree hugger; really that’s what it is,” Fisher said. “We must learn how to sustain, and there’s a science to that. Ecology class shows these kids the importance of needing to learn that science, because ultimately they are our future.”

~emily armstrong, staff reporter

Newest ‘Star Wars’ reawakens fans’ passion

I experienced something odd at the movie theater lately. I believe the phenomenon is called childlike wonder and joy. Stow away any fears you may have of a Phantom Menace redux, because Star Wars: The Force Awakens brings much needed reinvigoration to a beloved series.

Director J.J. Abrams approaches the film like a Star Wars savant, stitching together elements found in the original movies while bringing in fresh faces to prevent The Force Awakens from spilling over into nostalgia overload. Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill all return to reprise their roles as Han Solo, Leia Organa, and Luke Skywalker, respectively. While Harrison is delightful as Han (his roguish wit hasn’t waned), it’s the new generation of stars who bring energy to the film. Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger on the desert planet Jakku, is effectively the new-school, female Luke. That might have been irritating if she wasn’t so downright cool; Rey proves herself to be a quick-thinking heroine slightly more reminiscent of Han than of Luke in some regards, and Ridley delivers the character with so much warmth. Other newcomers include Finn (John Boyega), a stormtrooper with a conscience, and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a swaggering resistance pilot. Adam Driver makes an impact as Kylo Ren, a sullen and tempestuous antagonist hiding behind a mask reminiscent of Darth Vader’s.

The settings of The Force Awakens are a marked improvement from the predecessor films. While the backdrops of the prequel trilogy always seemed so placid and artificial (I swear you could see the green screen radiating off the actors), the worlds in the newest film have depth, from desert bazaars to pirate-filled cantinas. Lightsaber combat is better than ever; the blades crackle, and stray swings slice down unfortunate trees.

And yet it isn’t perfect. The movie is a skosh too similar to A New Hope, with Rey’s background and character arc paralleling Luke’s a bit too much, down to their shared upbringings on desert planets (and similar fashion choices). And destroying entire planets! You have to hand it to Star Wars villains; they don’t think small. Moreover, the film occasionally feels too ambitious, as if there simply wasn’t enough time to jam in everything Abrams wanted to incorporate. One example is a scene in which Finn declares his affection for Rey. Although the two characters do have chemistry, the confession seems bizarre, considering they have probably only known each other for about an hour.

Despite occasionally struggling under the tremendous weight of expectations and time constraints, The Force Awakens is ultimately a triumph. I got shivers during the opening crawl with John Williams’ fantastically bombastic score. Han Solo, boarding the Millennium Falcon, echoes a sentiment all Star Wars fans felt for the new installment—“We’re home.”

~lana heltzel, editor-in-chief

‘The Danish Girl’ tells story of transgender pioneers

The Danish Girl, loosely inspired by the story of Lili Elbe, reveals the challenges and triumphs of Einer Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), a successful Danish landscape painter, and his transformation into Lili Elbe, the first transgender woman to have female gender reassignment surgery.

The idealistic life of Einer and his wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander) gets disrupted when a silly game of dress-up and fun brings out Lili, Einer’s alter-ego. Lilli is someone who can dress like and be the person Einer truly is. As Einer begins to be left behind, Lili takes his place, leaving Gerda to struggle between wanting her husband back and supporting Lili.

Although Einer’s transformation is the main focus of the film, Gerda’s development is inspiring as she grows into Lili’s main source of support while managing a successful career and dealing with her divorce. Gerda goes from a struggling artist, trying to get her foot in the door, to the breadwinner. One of the tear-jerking scenes is when Gerda attends one of her galleries alone, hoping that Einer comes to support her; she cannot accept that Einer is gone and Lili has taken his place.

Another important scene displays the violence against transgender people in the mid-1920’s when transgender people were not common. Einer is walking in the park, his first public outing in women’s clothing, when two men approach her asking her gender. The scene, although uncomfortable to watch, portrays the prejudice that transgender people face everyday.

Overall, Redmayne and Vikander give amazing performances and do justice to that stories of Gerda, Einer and Lili. This movie kept me captivated until the credits rolled and left me depressed and in need of a good cry. However, this film is a must see. It provides insight into how it feels to be a transgender woman in an era when it was unheard of.

~erica gudino, viewpoint director

‘Making a Murderer’ probes criminal justice

Netflix’s newest exclusive series Making a Murderer has taken hold of my mind and dragged me into addictive layers of mystery, complexity, and alas, utter shock — in the final verdict, that is.

The documentary series delineates the never-ending legal troubles of one man, Steven Avery, as he faces a literal lifelong battle with Wisconsin’s criminal justice system and the inescapable hatred by the locals of Manitowoc County. The very first episode follows events that took place in 1985 involving the rape and torture of a young woman along the coast of Lake Michigan. Amidst misinformation and a biased county police department, 22-year-old Steven Avery finds himself framed for the crime. Besides the obvious distortion of facts, the victim was manipulated into thinking that Steven Avery was the man who harmed her. Although Steven had several alibis to confirm his whereabouts when the rape took place, he was sent to prison for 18 years as a result of the victim’s mistaken identification.

Spoilers aside, after 18 years, Avery’s problem has only just begun. DNA tests finally secured his release from prison in 2003. Suddenly, less than two years later, Avery’s world gets turned upside down once again when he faces a murder charge. This time, his legal troubles draw the attention of more than just Manitowoc County.

Overall, the series is solid with 10 one-hour-long episodes that kept me hooked on intriguing intros, lovely opening/closing theme music, and consistent cliffhangers. I watched the entire series over the course of just three days, and it’s a must-watch.

If you love a good murder mystery, crime investigation dramas, law-and-order plot lines, or all of the above, Making a Murderer is the perfect series for you. In addition to getting an average Netflix-browser like me addicted, the plot stays stuck in my brain. Making a Murderer has me constantly questioning our nation’s criminal justice system.

However, as convincing as the general argument the series makes may be, there is controversy over whether it was created out of desire for the truth or to express a foregone conclusion. This bias becomes evident after further researching the topic — results show that a good portion of critical information was not released through Making a Murderer.
Nevertheless, it’s still one of the best documentary series I’ve seen. Watch it if you’d like something to ponder or perhaps need some facts about how the criminal justice system works, but don’t forget to conduct your research afterwards. I highly recommend it.

~claire shifflett, staff reporter

‘Fighting Nerds’ dominate on road to states

The undefeated Academic Team, also known as The Fighting Nerds, competed in 12 regular season matches and won at conference against five teams from the district and at regionals against nine other teams, only having to compete against four due to eliminations. After winning every match, they are going on to the states competition at William and Mary on Feb. 27.

“I think the progress this year has been amazing,” said history teacher Liz Monseur, who sponsors the team. “We have such a well-rounded team. My only issue this year is that four of our kids are graduating, so we have to recruit or we won’t have a team next year.”
Returning seniors Niles Ribeiro, Chris Parios and Mark Wiedenfeld share leadership roles and help to prepare the team for competition.

“Each of us on the team have our specialties, and so we’ll each be reading up more on our specific fields, as well as reviewing questions we’ve missed in the past,” Ribeiro said. “We’re going to be having more rigorous practices, too, and more practices per week.”

The competitions include questions on a wide range of topics, from literature, chemistry, biology, statistics and calculus, to foreign languages, current events, and even sports.

“Chris and Jeremy are masters of sports statistics,” Monseur said. “With most teams, and it’s funny, but when those questions come up, a lot of times there’s total silence.”

Each competition has two matches, and each match has three rounds. There’s a toss-up round with 15 questions where each team puts up four players, and any member can answer. In the directed round, the questions go back and forth between the two teams.

Junior Joel McGuire thinks the reason for the team’s success is due to the members’ diverse range of knowledge.

“We do all have our specialties,” McGuire said. “But we’re all sort of a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-some.”

Losing only one round during the regular season, the team has indeed been practically unstoppable. According to senior Angelle Martin, they generally won by a decisive amount of points. Some matches, however, were won by a narrow margin. Although correct answers count for 10 points, a team suffers a five point loss if they interrupt the question to give an incorrect answer.

“Culpeper and Manassas Park were very competent teams,” McGuire said. “They’ve been our most challenging competitors [during the regular season].”

Although Ribeiro, Parios, McGuire and Wiedenfeld are the starters, Monseur tries to play newer members. In addition to Martin, junior Jeremy Alexander, sophomore Shelby Bush, and freshman Joe Barrett comprise the rest of the team.

“I try to play everyone unless it’s a really tight match,” Monseur said. “The newer kids, they might know a lot of things, but they’re hesitant about buzzing in. It’s kind of something that you just develop confidence with experience.”

This year The Fighting Nerds faced new teams due to a change in districting.

“Definitely playing unfamiliar teams is higher tension,” Ribeiro said. “As with anything, you’re stepping into an unknown situation, but in some ways I think that forces us to play our best.”

The team’s undefeated record did not help them with brackets at conference because teams simply drew straws this year to see who would compete first.

“It was a little intimidating,” Monseur said. “You usually go in and have a by, but we went in and played right away.”

Regional brackets, however, were based on the teams’ performance.

“We were all paired up based on our seatings in our districts, depending on how many matches we’ve won or lost,” Ribeiro said. “It was kind of nice to have our win-loss record have an effect.”

This is only the second time that Academic Team has ever made it to the state competition, and the first time since Monseur has been sponsor of the team.

“Our kids were outstanding at regionals, and they’re really, really excited to go to states,” Monseur said. “At first we just wanted to make it to states, but now that we have, we really want to do well at states.”

The Fighting Nerds, who had already increased the frequency and depth of their practices, are ramping it up even more to place well at states.

“The margin by which we won and went to states was encouraging for our chances at states,” Parios said. “Actually winning is kind of a long shot, but if we could beat some teams there, I would be happy.”

Despite the team’s success, Monseur worries about the future of Academic Team. With half of the team graduating, including three of the four starters.

“We need academic junkies: Students who are well-read, or don’t mind doing the research,” Monseur said. “The thing is, not all of these kids come in knowing all of this stuff; there are resources where they can memorize and look up things.”

Members of the team agree that the main qualification is to be enthusiastic about learning and willing to expand one’s knowledge.

“Academic team is full of people who are very passionate about their subject areas,” Ribeiro said. “We love to learn new things. And so, if anyone relates to that, maybe they should look into joining next year.”

~jacqueline smith, co-features director