Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Value of Making Mistakes: 2016 Valedictory Speech

UCHS 2016 Valedictorian Lydia Soifer was kind enough to share with us her inspiring speech, delivered at the May 18th graduation ceremony.  Lydia attended U. City Schools for 13 years, beginning with kindergarten at Jackson Park Elementary.  She will be attending Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina this fall, studying  biological sciences. 

All of us have gone through thirteen years of school to make it to this point. At times it was great — we succeeded by getting a good grade or pulling our grade up after studying really hard for a final. But at other times the journey was a bit rougher. Maybe you didn’t quite get the grade you had hoped for or maybe there were things going on outside of school that made it difficult to get homework done. Either way, at these rough times we are faced with potential failure.

About a month ago, I stumbled upon a quote that stood out to me, as it was describing a predicament I see myself facing on a regular basis. It was a quote by Eckhart Tolle, “The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” For me, this quote applies to almost every aspect of life. In school, is it better to challenge myself even though I might fail, or should I take the easier route for guaranteed success? When I am in ballet class, should I try a triple turn and fall, or should I stick to a double because I know I can do one? In piano, should I practice even though I know I will fail the first few times, or should I continue to put off working on a hard piece because I am afraid I will never succeed? In each of these scenarios, the option that will result in improvement is the challenge, the option that might lead to failure.

Every single one of us has been faced with options such as these. None of us like to make the decision because the right choice requires us to step outside our comfort zone. We have to challenge ourselves even though it is difficult and may seem impossible because the difference between failure and success is not what distinguishes between a successful and unsuccessful person — what determines the difference is how we fail. One option is to give up, but this is no better than immediate success. We don’t learn anything, we don’t push ourselves, we don’t challenge ourselves to do better. The other option is to analyze our failure, figure out why we failed and how we can do better next time, and then, despite the fear of not succeeding, picking ourselves up and trying again. Maybe we will be successful the second time, but maybe we will fail again. We might even fail ten more times before we succeed, but each failure can teach us a lesson about ourselves. Whether it be learning a technique in art class or learning that if you think positively, you are more likely to make a successful pass in a football game, each failure can let us know how we can improve and eventually succeed.

As all of us leave U. City, we will find ourselves faced with many decisions, some of which will lead to immediate success and some which might lead to failure the first few times. We might be faced with the decision of whether or not to take the harder class in college, or we might have to decide whether or not to take a job that will push our skills beyond their current limit. At these critical points in our lives, we must remember that it is okay to fail. As we take the next step into life, we will be presented with many challenges, defeats, and failures. But these are not what marks our success. That is determined by our ability to take those challenges at which we did not succeed the first time, turn them around, and make them into successes which we can say we are proud of.

Thank you for your wise words Lydia, and best of luck to you in all of your future endeavors!  We know you will continue to make U. City proud!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Barry Williams: A Student's Tribute

Here on the "Say Yes to U. City Schools" blog we love to talk about our fantastic students, teachers, and programs. Today we have a story that combines all three: a touching Facebook tribute to a former Brittany Woods Middle School teacher from a student whose life was profoundly affected by the robotics program he started. 

Science teacher Barry Williams served in the district from 2000 until his retirement in 2013, with four years as the science department head. In 2009 he started the district's first FIRST robotics program, the Soaring Eagles FLL team. Since then the program has grown and spread, and hundreds of U. City students have benefited. 

One of those students, UCHS 2015 graduate Walter Deitzler, took to Facebook in 2013 to talk about how Mr. Williams influenced him:

"June 7, 2013
Today I played guitar at the retirement ceremony of the single, most influential teacher in my life, Mr. Barry Williams. Many, if not all of you, know that I am addicted to robotics, Mr. Williams is the teacher that influenced all of this. Before 7th grade, I knew that I wanted to go into a STEM field, but was not sure what exactly I wanted to do. Then, I joined Mr. Williams' FIRST Lego League robotics team, and ever since my life has been changed. He had a passion for us doing robotics. If we wanted to meet before school, he would be there bright and early to let us into the lab. He would allow us into his room at lunch to build robots, and on top of that, we would have our meetings after school for 2-3 hours each day. On Saturdays he would arrange for the school to be open so that we could build robots for another 6-8 hours. In 8th grade, he was my Science teacher, and allowed us to build our robots for FLL in his class. He led us to victory in every single qualifier that we ever attended, and we had reasonable success at St. Louis area championships, both years I was in his program. He nurtured my passion for science, and made me the budding young mechanical engineer I am. he will be sorely missed in the district.
Thank you Mr. Williams!"

Mr. Williams passed away earlier this year, and now Walter is a mechanical and aerospace engineering student at the University of Alabama in Huntsville

. Once again he took to Facebook to remember Mr. Williams and his impact:

"June 7, 2016 
Mr. Williams passed away earlier this year. He had a large impact on all of those he taught, and especially me. He dedicated all of his free time to inspiring students to go into STEM, and was just a great all around teacher."
Rest in peace Mr. Williams."

Barry Williams was just one of many, many excellent and dedicated teachers we are so fortunate to have here in U. City.  These individuals make a lasting impact on our students each and every day, and we are grateful. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Our Schools in the News: Post-Dispatch names Korinna Brandt 2016 Scholar Athlete

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently named University City High School senior Korinna Brandt as one of their 2016 STLHSS Scholar Athletes.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 18, 2016

University City: Korinna Brandt

Academic rank • 7 of 203.

Sports • Field hockey, swimming water polo.

Academic bio • Scholar Athlete Award; Northwestern University Book Award; National Field Hockey Association Academic Scholar Award; PTO Scholar Award.

Athletic bio • Captain of the University City Varsity field hockey team and water polo team; honorable mention for the field hockey all-conference team.

Activities • Member of the National Honors Society; member of the Gay Straight Alliance; ran the Go! St. Louis Half Marathon with Students on the Go.

College • Missouri State University.

Goal • "As an adult I hope to be in a profession where I can help people. While I'm not entirely sure what I want to do later in life at the moment, I know that whatever it is will hopefully make a difference the lives of those around me.”

Favorite subject • Biology

Monday, April 25, 2016

Our Schools in the News: Brittany Woods Students Launch Streetwear Line

Check out this article from the Riverfront Times about two of our Brittany Woods Middle School students!

St. Louis' Hottest Streetwear Line Was Created by Two 8th Graders

Posted By Sarah Fenske on Mon, Apr 25, 2016 at 6:50 am

Gunnar Wurst, left, and Daivion Crawford.

In their artfully layered streetwear, Gunnar Wurst and Daivion Crawford might be any hot young clothing designers on the streets of Soho or Brooklyn — except for the fact that they live in a suburb of St. Louis, and neither is old enough to drive.

Wurst, 13, and Crawford, 14, founded MXTRO MVB in the winter of 2015, inspired by Supreme and the other streetwear brands they stalk online. The way they describe it, the whole undertaking sounds remarkably easy. "Within one to weeks, we made a logo, put it out and got ideas going," Wurst says. They launched their website soon after, initially offering two shirts and two hats.

Since then, they've expanded to add two more shirts, but they've got much bigger plans for the future. Their classes at Brittany Woods Middle School have included sewing (part of the Family Consumer Sciences program) and fabrication, prototyping and modeling (part of their class in Industrial Arts). They want to begin cutting and sewing their clothing — "jackets, pants, and a lot of things that are harder to do," Wurst says. They've been using materials from the Small Business Administration to fine-tune their business model.


Part of their goal is an accessible price point. Their idol Supreme may charge $48 for a T-shirt — if you can even get one; most of the products on his website are in a perpetual state of being sold out — but MXTRO MVB charges $15 for a short-sleeve shirt and $22 for a long-sleeve.

"You see the clothing that kids are into, they go for crazy money," says Crawford. "We're trying to make it affordable."

It helps that overhead is low, of course. They personally took their line's promo photos. They also serve as the models, and found a site that will host their online presence for free. Both set of parents have been supportive. (Wurst's dad teaches industrial design; of his own father, Crawford says, "My dad's into fashion, and he inspired me a lot." But, he says, he doesn't wear MXTRO MVB: "I think he's too old for it.")

The summer could be a big one for MXTRO MVB. Wurst has a trip planned to New York City, and he suspects he'll find plenty of inspiration in the city's fashion district to share with his business partner. The young designers also plan to get to work on that new line of clothing — one they sew, not just have printed.

"Through the summer, we're going to get a sewing machine and get the fabrics to do it," Wurst promises.

That's the thing about being thirteen and fourteen. Once school is out for the summer, you have all that time free .... to work.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

UCHS Grad Wins Peace Grant to Train Indigenous Women Leaders

Congratulations to Caroline Martinez, University City High School Class of 2012!

From Bowdain News

Caroline Martinez ’16 Wins Peace Grant to Train Indigenous Women Leaders
March 31, 2016 by Rebecca Goldfine

After her parents separated, Caroline Martinez ’16 left Ecuador for the United States with her siblings and her American mother. She was 16. Now, as her graduation from Bowdoin draws closer, Martinez is eager to return to her home country. Although she has appreciated her college education, she said she has often felt too distant from the cause she’s committed to.

Since she was a teenager in Ecuador, Martinez has been fighting for the rights and welfare of the country’s 14 indigenous nationalities, which include the Kichwa, Waorani and Cofan people. These groups are in danger of losing rights over their land, natural resources, water, schools and medicine. Since coming to Bowdoin, Martinez has seized several opportunities to continue being involved, including using college grants to do sociological research in indigenous communities.

As a child, Martinez’s Ecuadorian father would tell her not to forget that while some of her blood is European, some also comes from indigenous people. “Mestizo people are indigenous people, too,” he would tell her. Mestizos refer to people of mixed heritage, and in Latin America, they often enjoy greater privileges than indigenous people.

Martinez’s dedication to working on behalf of indigenous people, particularly women, received a boost recently when she won a $10,000 grant from the Davis Projects for Peace foundation. The organization supports undergraduates who want to implement projects around the world that contribute to conflict resolution and peace building in some way.

Martinez will use her funding to organize a series of free leadership trainings in the highland communities of Ecuador. With an Ecuadorian partner, Carmen Lozano, Martinez will teach women of all ages, from teenagers and up, skills such as public speaking and how to draft project proposals and implement them. The workshops are designed to encourage women to organize to promote the welfare of their communities. “The workshops will give women a chance to speak with each other about what they face and what they want,” Martinez said.

This summer, Martinez will travel to 14 highland provinces to offer the training. She anticipates that about 200 women will attend. At the end of the summer, she’ll invite all the participants to a great assembly. “The idea is to form a core of indigenous female leaders and this core will be able to teach other, organize and be an advocacy force for women,” she said.

Martinez is going into her project well-versed in the needs of indigenous women. Last summer, with funding from Bowdoin’s Grua/O’Connell and Surdna Foundation research fellowships, and support from a Mellon Mays fellowship, she conducted sociological research in Ecuador. She interviewed 10 indigenous women leaders, aged 40 to 66, about their life stories, and listened to them talk about what has helped them achieve their position of prominence and what has held them back. “My goal was to understand how these women were able to become leaders in their community and be in a position where they could create change for both women and indigenous people,” she said. This year, she wrote a thesis paper for an independent study, outlining the services or opportunities that would help more indigenous women gain influence and also describing what is holding them back.

One of the requests she heard over and over from the women she spoke with was for more leadership training.

After being gone for five years, Martinez said returning to Ecuador was joyful for her. “I felt very happy to be there again. But doing research didn’t feel like enough. I’m not going to just write a paper and that’s it,” she said. She asked herself, “What can I do now that I am outside this situation to contribute to women and indigenous people’s struggles?”

After she completes her summer of leadership trainings, Martinez said she will start thinking about attending a graduate program in sociology in her country. She said there’s no question about her leaving Ecuador again. “It is where everything I care about is,” she said.

UCHS Journalism Students Receive Numerous Awards

University City High School Journalism students received over 30 state-level awards at the Missouri Interscholastic Press Association (MIPA) Scholastic Journalism Day at University of Missouri in Columbia on Wednesday, April 6. Publications students accepted the awards at the closing ceremony where 1300 state-wide journalism students and advisers were in attendance. Congratulations to these outstanding students and their fabulous teacher, Ms. Mary Williams!

2015-16 MIPA State Journalism Awards
[Ratings: All Missouri, Superior, Excellent, Honorable Mention]

Overall Publications Awards:
U-Times Newspaper: All Missouri (Christine Politte, editor-in-chief)
U-Times Online Newspaper: Excellent (Payton Bass, editor-in-chief)
Yearbook (2016 edition): Excellent (Emily Looby, editor-in-chief)

All-Missouri Awards
Newspaper News Story (Borrowed Logo): Christine Politte (editor-in-chief)
Newspaper Editorial (School Spirit Shrinks): Christine Politte (editor-in-chief)
Yearbook Theme/Concept: Johanna Hill and Hannah Fuller (co-editors-in-chief)
Yearbook Student Life Design (Love Actually): Johanna Hill (co-editor-in-chief)

Individual Awards, Reporting:
Excellent, Newspaper Sports Writing: Kathryn Fuller
Excellent, Newspaper Feature Writing: Francene Bethune
Honorable Mention, Newspaper Feature Writing: Jaylen Williams
Honorable Mention, Newspaper News Story: Christine Politte

Individual Awards: Diversity Awareness
Superior, Newspaper Editorial (Straight Outta U. City): Payton Bass
Superior, Newspaper Editorial (Black Students Need More): Payton Bass
Excellent, Newspaper News Story (Fox, Ritenour Students): Kathryn Fuller
Excellent, Newspaper Feature (Black History Evades…): Jaylen Williams
Honorable Mention, Editorial (The Kids Aren’t Alright): Payton Bass

Individual Awards: Design
Superior, Newspaper Design (Homecoming Spread): Christine Politte
Superior, Yearbook Student Life Design: Hannah Fuller
Excellent, Yearbook Student Life Design: Aniya Kendrick
Excellent, Yearbook Academic Design: Cat Hoff
Excellent, Yearbook Sports Design: Cat Hoff
Honorable Mention, Newspaper Spread Design, Christine Politte

Individual Awards: Photography
Superior, Yearbook Photo Essay: Johanna Hill, Della Cox, and Hannah Fuller
Superior, Yearbook Sports Photo: Jermarcus Perkins
Superior, Yearbook Personality/Portrait: Cat Hoff
Excellent, Yearbook Sports Feature: Taneya Parker
Excellent, Yearbook Student Life: Christine Politte
Excellent, Newspaper Student Life: Lucy Wurst
Excellent, Yearbook Student Life: Johanna Hill
Excellent, Yearbook Personality/Portrait: Cat Hoff
Honorable Mention, Yearbook Personality/Portrait: Johanna Hill
Honorable Mention, Yearbook Photo Illustration: Taneya Parker and Hannah Fuller
Honorable Mention, Yearbook Sports Feature: Christine Politte
Honorable Mention, Yearbook Sports Feature: Hannah Fuller
Honorable Mention, Yearbook Student Life: Cat Hoff
Honorable Mention, Yearbook Student Life: Christine Politte (x3)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Fifth Annual U City FLL Warm Up at UCHS

On Saturday, September 26th, University City High School was host to the fifth annual University City FIRST LEGO League Warm Up.  This event, sponsored by U. City Robotics, brought together 27 teams and approximately 125 students plus parents and mentors from across the region and as far away as Cape Girardeau.  FIRST LEGO League (FLL) introduces young people, ages 9 to 14, to the fun and excitement of science and technology. Teams, composed of up to ten children, build and program an autonomous robot to score points on a thematic playing field, as well as research and create a presentation centered around creative and innovative solutions to a problem (this year they will seek to solve the world's trash problems) and adhere to set of core values known as gracious professionalism.

The teams came to the Warm Up for an early chance to test drive the robots they are building and programming for the 2015 FLL challenge, TRASH TREK.  While there was no official refereeing or scoring, they had an excellent opportunity to meet and compete with other teams, and to practice for the upcoming November qualifiers (two of which will be held at Brittany Woods Middle School.) The event is also used by FIRST LEGO League of Eastern Missouri to train referees for the upcoming competition season.

FLL teams get the chance to play
this year's robot game in a timed

Technical support was on hand to assist teams with design, building, and programming as well as subject expertise for the project presentations required as part of the competition.  The City of University City sent an employee from Waste Management, and Washington University sent six subject experts to help with project research.

Students get expert help on their research projects.

Six of our own district FLL teams, from Jackson Park Elementary, Flynn Park Elementary, and Brittany Woods Middle School, participated in the event.  All district teams were sponsored by Rankin Technical College, who was also a sponsor of the event and provided technical support staff.

Members of the Brittany Woods team make adjustments
to their robot.
Our high school robotics team, the UCHS Robolions - FIRST Robotics Competition team #3397 - brought their competition robot to demonstrate and even allowed some of the kids from FLL to try their hands at driving it.  The Robolions also provided help with set-up the night before, and volunteered at the event in various capacities, including providing programming expertise and support.

UCHS Robolions team members
set up the FLL competition fields.

FIRST  (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was founded in 1989 to inspire young people's interest in science and technology. In 2015 FIRST programs will reach 400,000 students around the world through four leveled programs for kids K-12.  FIRST kids are significantly more likely to attend college, major in science or engineering, and be outstanding future employees and citizens, For more information, please visit