New to the neighborhood: Special Education paraprofessional Noelle Mason-Wood

Noelle Mason-Wood is one of the new special education paraprofessionals this year. It is not her first time on campus, as last year she served as an intern for the technology department, and she attended school here as well.

“I’m excited just to see the success my students have, and the changes they make,” Mason-Wood said, “both within, academically, and socially as a whole.”

As a special education paraprofessional, Mason-Wood said she enjoys building relationships with her group of students and learning from their life experiences, which she describes as sometimes broader than what she has experienced herself.

Outside of working with students, Mason-Wood said she enjoys playing and coaching field hockey. She also enjoys spending time in nature and gaining new experiences for herself.

“I just like to go out and be outside and go on hikes and kind of just experience new things I haven’t seen before or done before,” Mason-Wood said.

When asked about tips for high school students, Mason-Wood had several pieces of advice.

“I would say my biggest tip is to just be in communication with your teachers and advocate for yourself and what you need,” Mason-Wood said. “The staff at Homestead is very accommodating and helpful if you are willing to ask for it and explain your circumstances.”

New to the neighborhood: Dean Brooke Chan

 Brooke Chan is a new dean on campus. In the past, she worked as a guidance counselor at Educational Options, an alternative program for students in FUHSD, and was a guidance counselor at HHS for seven years prior to that.

Chan said she became a dean because she enjoys working with students.

“Even though some of my conversations aren’t fun in nature, I still like getting to know students and working with them on their academics and what makes them who they are,” Chan said.

So far, Chan said, she has enjoyed the student body.

“I’m really impressed,” Chan said. “I’m impressed with the students, how respectful, polite but also how multi-talented they are.”

She said she also likes the diversity, energy and large size of Homestead.

As a dean, Chan wants to make sure the school is a place where students are happy and enjoy learning.

“A goal for me is making sure students’ voices are heard in decision-making,” she said.

While she is not acting as the dean, Chan said she is preoccupied with pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership. In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with her family, playing volleyball and doing yoga. Chan said she played volleyball throughout high school and college, and has also coached for ten years.

Students ‘expresso’ their take on Philz

The aroma of freshly ground coffee beans fills the air as you take your first steps in.

Philz Coffee has been growing increasingly popular. Students are raving about the local chain and why they seem to enjoy it more than other coffee shops.

The environment of any business plays a part in its image. In this case, Philz’s environment is one of its main attractions to teens. The trendy coffee joint keeps customers feeling welcome and chill in comparison to other shops. A major factor in this is their employees.

“The people working there are usually high schoolers, so they’re… around our age, and like they’re all really cool.” sophomore Audrey Devera said.

Devera finds herself visiting Philz routinely once every two weeks. When asked to rate the environment of Philz in comparison to Starbucks, she ranked Philz a 10 and Starbucks a 6.

“When I go to Starbucks, I wouldn’t want to sit down, like I would just want to get my drink and go. I feel more comfortable at Philz.” Devera said.

Students find Philz more attractive because it is not as common as other shops, like Starbucks. The lack of a crowd allows customers more space to relax and concentrate. This creates a unique atmosphere for Philz and prevents people from feeling rushed or hassled.

“The fact that Philz isn’t as popular as Starbucks … it makes it more exciting to be at Philz.” freshman Kathy Rodriguez, a current coffee lover and frequent customer at Philz, said.

Both Devera and Rodriguez felt that the raw quality of the coffee and tea also played a role in what drew them to love and obsess over it. Philz uses a “pour over” process in brewing their straight to the point coffee, rather than extravagant machines. In this process, baristas use a funnel to extract coffee flavors into the cup by pouring water over it by hand.

From an insider’s point of view, Gianna Pezzella, a long time coffee addict and a part time employee at a Philz Coffee shop in Cupertino, said, “All the beans we use are super fresh… we have such a variety of roasts and stuff. I feel like at Starbucks, they use more syrups and more artificial things.”

Pezzella is presently a senior in high school, so she feels like she can relate to the stress and increasing pressure of it all. Philz has contributed to releasing a lot of that stress.

“The struggles we have with high school, college apps, SATs, all of that. It stresses me out so much and after school I go to work and I kind of have this like giant wave of relief… just going into this awesome environment, it makes me so much happier as a person.” Pezzella said.

Pezzella believes that the reason why majority of Philz’s customers are high schoolers, is because teens are becoming more open to trying new things in their lives, including coffee.

“I feel like coffee is becoming such more of a sophisticated topic, so people are expanding their like coffee horizons,” Pezzella said.


September invitationals foreshadow success to come

The cross country team had a strong showing at the first meet of the season, the Early Bird Invitational, on September 19th, boasting top runners in virtually every category of the meet. Across the board, the Mustangs placed second overall out of the 70 total teams in the meet.

Such bright early invitation results foreshadow a great season to come. The team had remarkable performances from freshmen Katie Williams and Ryan Ma, sophomores Vincent Li and Elena Kamas, juniors Max Sawyer and Lindsay Allen, and senior Christopher Reed, leading their respective class teams to high placements in the meet.

“Our [boy’s team] was 4th overall, “ senior captain Adithya Somasundaram said. “We thought it was a good start to the season.”

Somasundaram placed 16th for his race, helping the boys senior team finish fourth overall. The boy’s team had a combined time of 1 hour 21 minutes 48 seconds, finishing with a new school record.

“It just gave us a point to grow from,” Somasundaram said, “we just want to keep getting better.”

The girl’s team also placed well, finishing third overall. Sophomore captain Elena Kamas noted the improvement from last year’s fourth place finish.

“A lot of our teams were on the podium for Early Bird, especially our freshman teams,” Kamas said, “It was much better than last year.”

The surge of new, talented freshmen further helped the cross country team this year. Junior captain Max Sawyer notes the marked improvement from last year.

“Our team is really strong this year,” Sawyer said. “The spread on our team is really small.”

The top five runners on the boy’s team are very close to each other, constantly changing places in the leaderboard. The new depth of the cross country team also shows promise for a great league run this year, according to Sawyer. The team is aspiring to reach and succeed at the state competitions later this semester.

“We still have a long way to go,” Somasundaram said, “but we started off on the right foot.”


Taking high school at college

High school can be difficult.  Although most students are fine with curriculum and class selection, for some the traditional system doesn’t work.  Fortunately, they have middle college.

    Middle college is a partnership between FUHSD and De Anza Community College that allows students to spend their junior and senior years at De Anza for high school credit.

Declan Reiser, a junior in middle college, said he signed up for the program because of the unique learning environment.

“I wanted to be in an environment with college students because college students pay to go to school, whereas high school students have to be there,”  Reiser said. “So, I think that makes a difference.”

He said one of the most striking difference is the grading system for the middle college classes.

“They grade your assignments in a different way,” Reiser said. “Instead of A’s and B’s, it’s either incomplete or what they call ‘not yet,’ which is you don’t get it yet or you don’t get what it’s about yet.  So you either basically get an A plus, a B or you don’t get it.”

One of the assignments was to interview a former middle college student.  Reiser said the interviews were very insightful.

“This one girl said that it’s good to make friends with non-high school people, the adults in your college courses, because some of them have connections,” Reiser said. “Like this girl I interviewed, she got an internship from NASA by talking to a retired NASA employee who was taking a science class for fun.”

Eric Albanese, another junior at middle college, said he hopes the learning environment the more focused atmosphere and smaller classes will be an improvement for him.

Albanese joined middle college this year because his ADHD was a constant academic challenge at HHS. He finished his sophomore year with mostly B’s and C’s.

At the new campus, he said the people are very friendly and the atmosphere is more laid back.

    High School          Middle College

venn diagram

However, he said his classes are at inconvenient times.  One starts early in the morning and another ends late at night, so he has to bike to and from school on some days because the classes occur too early or late for the public bus, he said.

Both Albanese and Reiser said they learned of middle college from the flyers posted around campus for an information day hosted at the library during tutorial last February.

“The things they said about it appealed to me, like more independent learning,”  Reiser said.

After that, they began the process of signing up.  First they each had to get at least two recommendations from their teachers.

“One of them has to be English or history. In my case, I had my English and history teacher, and then your third one can be your drama teacher, or if you do a sport, you want your coach to do it, so they can learn more about you,” Reiser said.

Next, they had to write a timed essay.  To prepare, Albanese and Reiser said they both wrote several practice essays.

“The prompt was ‘What was an academic challenge you’ve faced, and how did you get around it?’  And if you didn’t have a good example, you could just say a life challenge,” Reiser said.

Accepted applicants are then interviewed.  Reiser and Albanese said they interviewed each other to prepare for the real thing.

Middle college students started classes on Sept. 10.  Albanese said his experience so far has been enjoyable.

Reiser said he agrees, but it’s not immensely different.

“So far, we’ve just been doing normal, back-to-school stuff,” Reiser said.

New to the neighborhood: Attendence accounting specialist Candi Marugg

Candi Marugg is the new attendance accounting specialist. She previously worked for eight years in supply chain management and logistics.

“I changed careers because I am a mother of a young family,” Marugg said. “I wanted a more stable . . . schedule. No more long hours.”

As attendance accounting specialist, Marugg said she listens to the voicemails excusing students from absences. She also takes care of truancies, tardies and excusing students to leave school early.

Marugg decided to move to a career in education due to suggestions from friends and family needs.

“I have a couple of friends in education and they are able to make their lives work with having young children,” Marugg said.

Since her eldest daughter is starting kindergarten, Marugg said she wants to have the time to take care of her.

“I wanted to make sure that I had a work schedule that would allow me to be able to pick her up from school,” she said, “and allow me to be able to still make dinner and have a whole family life when I get home.”

When she’s not working, Marugg said she likes to go to country music concerts and spend time  with her two daughters.

Library amending academic center

Upon the beginning of the new school year, new Academic Center Specialist Alessandro Stavoli altered the tutoring system in Homestead’s academic center. The academic center exists at the back of the library and it is where students can receive assistance  with their academics from student tutors.

The academic center has long been headed by Jessica Kirby, but this year, Stavoli, previous physical therapist, took over the role.

Kirby’s previous tutoring system was based off one-on-one methods, in which student tutors could tutor anyone in their area of expertise.

Kirby said she wanted to break the culture barrier that tutors had to have straight A’s and get perfect grades.
“That was something I was really working on, that anybody could be a tutor,” Kirby said.

Stavoli said the previous tutoring system proved to be ineffective in raising students’ grades, as tutees showed no measurable improvement in their classes.

In an effort to improve the academic center, Stavoli incorporated a group-oriented tutoring system instead of the previous one-on-one system.

Stavoli said that in this revamped system, tutors are organized into groups consisting of three tutors, each with a different role: charter, summarizer and note-taker.

The charter is the leader of the group, acting as the main tutor who relays information to the tutees. On the other hand, the summarizer condenses the information while the note-taker reminds the tutees to take notes during the session.

[pullquote speaker=”Al[pullquote speaker=”Alessandro Stavoli” photo=”” align=”center” background=”off” border=”all” shadow=”on”]I think it’s a much more organized [system], it has objectives, it actually has direction.[/pullquote]

Stavoli said that he strives to “interest people more… make it more personalized for the students that need help… and also to give a more goal-oriented approach to the tutors.”

“The school does a lot of effort to do interventions with students, not just academically but also emotionally,” Stavoli said.

The effectiveness of Stavoli’s changes has raised several questions among students, tutors in particular.

“Some of the tutors wonder how effective the new system will be in helping the tutees,” academic tutor Ryan Chen said. “But it looks like a lot of the tutors there are serious and I think it’s helping students.”

“I think it’s a much more organized [system], it has objectives, it actually has direction,” Stavoli said. “There are going to be things modified along the way but I think the system is going to be effective because it gives students the space to learn and apply their own style.”

Since it is still early in the school year and the academic center is just beginning to gain momentum, only time can evaluate if the new academic center system truly is effective, Stavoli said.

Stavoli encourages more students to visit the academic center for any academic questions and hopes that tutors will have the curiosity and patience to learn how to teach others as the year progresses.

Stavoli emphasizes that Homestead continues to make an effort to provide academic help to its students, hoping that students will take the first step into the academic center towards a brighter future.

“Bringing people in is the most difficult part… it’s a big step,” Stavoli said.

Vallco, the ghost mall with boundless potential

Residing in the center of Silicon Valley, Vallco Mall can be expected to constantly be bustling with customers. However, to locals who frequent the complex, Vallco is commonly known as a “ghost mall.”

Due to its ever-worsening lack of business, Vallco can be seen over the years as a sinking ship slowly reaching the verge of tipping over.

It was not always like this, though. According to an article by San Jose Mercury News writer, Matt Wilson, back in the 1980s when Vallco first opened, people flocked to the mall with their wallets wide open. Teenagers and adults alike looked forward to the weekends where they could enjoy strolling around the mall.

In those days, Vallco was undisputably the biggest mall in Silicon Valley. Its notable ice rink and some 190 stores drew in visitors from across the region.

Vallco’s deterioration started in the 1990s and continues today. Real estate reporter,  Nathan Weinstein, said this decline was caused by the large selection of mid-range stores, which did not reflect the affluence of the surrounding residents.

Although Vallco Mall is decorated and ready for the the holidays, it continues to receive a low traffic of shoppers.
Although Vallco Mall is decorated and ready for the the holidays, it continues to receive a low traffic of shoppers.

Unlike its competitors, Westfield Valley Fair and Great Mall of the Bay Area, Vallco lacks large stores that attract customers.

“Vallco has a very limited selection of stores, they don’t carry any big-name brands such as Nike or Vans,” junior Bilal Qureshi said. “Vallco just simply does not have what people want.”

The lack of stores, however, is not the only issue, as people also complain of Vallco’s bleak atmosphere.

“Vallco gives off a depressing vibe. It’s just a very lonely place,” sophomore George Wen said. “It seems like a place where someone might go to sit on one of the many benches around the mall and ponder about life.”

All hope for the mall is not lost, however, as a new owner recently purchased the entirety of the mall. In November 2014, Sand Hill Property Co. purchased the mall for a total of $320 million, according to an article written by Bay Area Real Estate reporter Nancy Amdur.

With Vallco in the hands of a new owner, one can only hope that major renovations will rejuvenate the mall.

According to, in August 2015, Sand Hill announced a drastic plan to convert Vallco into a retail, office and residential development that would be covered with the world’s largest green roof.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what Vallco can become,” Qureshi said. “Vallco has potential, it’s just all up to the owners to mold that into success.”

With the huge responsibility of reviving Vallco Mall, it seems as if the people at Sand Hill will have their hands full for the next couple of years.

EL Ambassador’s Program connects Homestead students

The English Language Development (ELD) department recently kicked off the Ambassador’s Program, a yearlong activity that connects EL students with student mentors. The program, which meets weekly during Tuesday tutorials, aims to help EL students with the social and communicational aspects of high school.

At the program’s first meeting on Sept. 22, mentors met their mentees for the year and participated in activities to familiarize themselves with each other.

The school’s EL Commissioners, senior Ronnie Li and juniors Tej Gokhale and Yvonne Yang, led the meeting with a PowerPoint presentation, assisted by program advisors Grace Henson and Wilma Wu.

Henson, who is beginning her 15th year in the ELD department, said ELD students previously had tutors and teachers to help them with academics, but no help assimilating to high school culture in America.

“We needed something where the students would be more involved with the rest of the student body,” Henson said.

The program, founded in 2008, started with around 20 students, but has now doubled in size.

[pullquote speaker=”Ronnie Li” photo=”” align=”left” background=”on” border=”all” shadow=”on”]When you’re not good at a language, you don’t want to talk to people[/pullquote]

Each meeting usually begins with a presentation from the EL Commissioners about upcoming events and holidays at school, as well as a topic about American culture. Mentors and mentees are prompted with questions about the topic to discuss with each other.

The program also puts on several events throughout the year, including a Halloween Movie Social, Thanksgiving Lunch, Christmas White Elephant and International Soccer Tournament. Some of these events, such as the soccer tournament in the spring, are open to participation for the entire school.

Currently, mentors and mentees are encouraged to spend time together at least once each month outside of the weekly meetings. This year, the EL Commissioners and advisors hope that partners will meet up more than once each month, suggesting that students take their mentees to see a movie, attend a club meeting or just hang out. This will allow mentees to further experience social events in the local area.

Li joined an ELD class the second semester of her sophomore year, after moving to the U.S. from China.

“When you’re not good at a language, you don’t want to talk to people,” Li said. She hopes the program will encourage more students to open up about themselves, their cultures and their interests.

“We meet all the new EL students. For me, it was really nice to meet them because I was one of them,” Li said about her aspirations for the program. “I really want us to be a family.”

Passing the poms

To continue the Mustang passion and spirit into the future, the Homestead cheer team held a community Youth Cheer Camp last Friday for elementary and middle schoolers interested in performing under the bright stadium lights.

The cheer team has made some significant changes over the past few years with the addition of a competition team and a change in uniforms. Now, cheer coach Connie LaScola has decided that the biggest change she wanted was for her girls to be leaders.

“The camp did make me feel like a leader just because my co-captains, the team and I got to teach them the basics of cheer leading,” cheer captain Paola Navarro said.

During the camp, young campers learned the notorious cheers that many students have learned word-for-word at every football game. In addition, the campers were given their own set of pom-poms and a HHS Cheer Camp shirt as their uniform for last Friday’s game against Leland High School.

The girls and boys excitedly cheered on the Mustangs from the sidelines during the nail-biting game.

One of the campers, Alaina Harlow, said, “[The game was] very loud and very exciting.”

The small campers positively warmed the hearts of the cheer team, and even captain Alycia Harlow learned from the experience.

“It sort of gave me an idea of what my coaches do when they work with us,” Harlow said.

Even though the Youth Cheer Camp only lasted two weeks, its impact on the campers will last a lifetime.

“I thought it was was weird because I actually went to one of the camps while I was in middle school, and now I was one of the leaders for it,” Navarro said.

Coach Connie puts on collaborative events like these for the benefit of both the existing and future cheer teams.

“The youth camp is a fundraiser for all of the cheer teams,” Navarro said. “Plus a lot of the kids that participate in the camp actually end up trying out for the team once they get into high school.”

With the cheer team bringing in the community through the love of cheer, the results on the happy campers’ faces are unforgettable.