For Grades 9-12 , week of Oct. 19, 2020

1. Historic Nobel Prizes

The Nobel Prizes are given out each year for lifetime achievements in the sciences and the arts. This year, the award for chemistry made history. For the first time in the 119-year history of the award, two women won without having to share the prize with a man. Dr. Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist at the University of California at Berkeley, and French researcher Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max Planch Institute earned the award for developing a way to cut the strands of DNA in living things and “edit” the genetic code that DNA contains. “I really hope this is breaking that glass ceiling so that in the future it’s not surprising that two women or more win awards,” Doudna said. Two other women made news in this year’s awards. Poet Louise Gluck won the Nobel Prize for Literature and Dr. Andrea Ghez, an astronomer and physics professor at UCLA in California, shared Nobel Prize in Physics for her work studying black holes in space. Women are gaining more and more recognition for their achievements in different career fields. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about women gaining such recognition. Use what you read to write a personal column analyzing the different ways women are gaining recognition and which are the most significant as inspiration for other women.

Common Core State Standards: Writing opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

2. Top Principal

Along with teachers, principals are the most important people in America’s schools. Principals set the standards for everything from academic performance and learning to behavior and school “culture.” And they have the job of choosing and inspiring the teachers who make a school a success. Every year the National Association of Secondary School Principals chooses a Principal of the Year to honor a person who exemplifies what a successful middle or high school principal should be. This year’s winner is a high school principal in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who has turned a failing school around, led students and teachers to success and — most importantly — maintained that success. Richard Gordon took over Paul Robeson High School in the West Philadelphia neighborhood in 2013, shortly after it narrowly avoided being closed. With the motto “I am the students that I serve,” he turned a low-performing, low-income school into one where 95 percent now go on to college. “Under his leadership, Robeson has been a model for other schools to follow,” the national principals organization said. There are many ways for principals to be successful. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about principals who have achieved success at their schools. Use what you read to write a “job description” offering bullet points for what makes a principal a success in your view.

Common Core State Standards: Producing clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to the task; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

3. New/Old Drug Tunnel

The United States’ efforts to stop drug smuggling from Mexico and other countries has been an elaborate game of cat and mouse for many years. Every time U.S. and Mexican officials cut off a method for transporting drugs, smugglers come up with a new one. The construction of a new border wall between the U.S. and Mexico was supposed to cut off drug trafficking, but it pushed smugglers further underground. In addition to tunnels they have dug and used for years, smugglers now are floating drugs through a sewage tunnel that exists between the towns of Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico. And sometimes they even carry drugs through the sewage and waste in the tunnel themselves. The tunnel system was built in the 1930s as a joint project between the U.S. and Mexico to treat sewage from Mexico at a plant in the United States, the Washington Post reports. With other options cut off, it has become a new avenue for drug smugglers, members of the U.S. Border Patrol and Mexican National Guard say. “The hard part … is finding the newest tunnel,” one guardsman said. “It’s here somewhere.” The battle against illegal drug smuggling has been going on for years. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about different approaches that have been tried and which have been the most successful. Use what you read to write a letter to the editor outlining which approaches have been successful, and why they could be a model for other communities.

Common Core State Standards: Reading closely what written and visual texts say and to making logical inferences from them; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

4. Newsworthy Legs

Teenagers make news in many ways, but a 17-year-old from the state of Texas can now claim one of the most unusual. Maci Currin has set a world record for having the longest legs for any teenager in the world and a second record for longest legs for a female. Currin’s legs make up 60 percent of her body, according the Guinness World Records organization, with her left leg slightly over 53 inches long and her right slightly under 53 inches. Overall, Currin stands 6 feet, 10 inches tall. Height runs in her family: Her father is 6-foot-5, her brother is 6-foot-4 and her mother is 5-foot-7. Her family first noticed she was going to be extraordinarily tall when she started growing four or five inches a year in elementary school in the city of Cedar Park. And while she was self-conscious about her height when she was younger, Currin now embraces it. She has more than 1.7-million followers on the TikTok social media platform and regularly posts about confidence and body image. “I hope that tall women can see that height is a gift,” she says. “You shouldn't be ashamed that you're tall. You should really embrace it.” Maci Currin has used her height to call attention to issues of self-confidence and body image. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about other people who are offering encouragement on these and other issues important to teens. Use what you read to write an advice or self-help column offering tips on how teens might deal with some of these issues.

Common Core State Standards: Conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic; reading closely what written and visual texts say and to making logical inferences from them.

5. Connecting

The coronavirus epidemic has brought a lot of stress to people, and one of the biggest sources is being isolated from others. It’s especially hard for older adults living in assisted living facilities or nursing homes. Those facilities have restricted visitors for safety reasons, leaving seniors cut off from those they love. A 15-year-old student from the state of Pennsylvania is working to remedy that, enlisting volunteers to make video or Zoom calls to seniors so that they feel remembered and connected. Hita Gupta, a high school junior from the town of Paoli outside Philadelphia, got the idea after starting a non-profit group to send letters, cards and care packages to seniors around the nation. When quarantine rules went into effect, she felt that didn’t go far enough for seniors in care facilities who were cut off from family and friends. Having a “real-time conversation” is much more effective than getting a letter for people who are “having a hard time” with isolation, Gupta told the New York Times. “… Being able to ease some of that tension, I think that’s so important.” Though it started as a local effort, her Brighten a Day non-profit has now gone national and is providing camera devices like smart phones and tablets for seniors and facilities in need. Teens like Hita Gupta often come up with solutions to problems in their communities. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about a problem in your community. With friends or classmates, brainstorm a way teens could address this problem. Write an action plan detailing how you would go about it. Use a cell phone or camera to make a video presenting your action plan and share with others.

Common Core State Standards: Engaging effectively in a range of collaborative discussions; conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.