fbomb post: Numbers and Self-worth

Back in the spring during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I wrote up a reflection piece and submitted it to the fbomb, a blog focused on issues that affect young women. It is the result of assessing my own struggle with anorexia and the self-criticism that comes a long with it. Luckily my story has a happy ending: I’m fully recovered and happier and healthier than ever! I’m so glad I now have the opportunity to spread awareness of an issue that affects more people than we realize.

“Everybody knows somebody.”


Unpublished piece on education reform

An example of a research/opinion piece I wrote up for the folks over at National School Choice Week. Unfortunately, it never did make it to the Washington Times, but I was proud of the effort I put into it anyway. This issue is important!



NY school reform: at what cost? [suggested title]

By Christyn Enser

January 3, 2012


New York schools have little to celebrate this New Year.


After reading Deborah Simmons’ Christmas Day warning about the high cost of school reform in D.C., Texas and Colorado, I considered my own state’s issues with reforming its K-12 education system.


The battle between school districts and the State Education Department over new teacher evaluation mandates remains the top issue.


It began after the federal government awarded the state a $700 million Race to the Top (RTTT) grant in August 2010. A stipulation of the grant is for local school districts and unions to negotiate new contracts in order to implement the new teacher evaluations. This was included in the grant’s memoranda of understanding (MOU), signed by 91 percent of public school districts.


Now, more than 1,000 principals across New York have signed a letter protesting the increased role of students’ test scores on national assessments in teacher evaluations- from 20 to 40 percent, depending on the district. 


Eight of the ten districts receiving School Improvement Grants (SIG) didn’t provide evidence of modifications to teacher and principal evaluations by Dec. 31 and now face suspension of funds.


“When the ball drops at midnight on New Year’s Eve, the money drops off the table,” State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. warned in a statement on Dec. 27. “It will be difficult to get back.”


King also noted that districts could lose their federal Teaching Incentive Funds and RTTT funding as a result of failing to implement new teacher evaluations.


The commissioner’s promise hit close to home on Jan. 3 when the Buffalo City School District’s SIG funding was suspended.  The district plans to appeal within 30 days and has been cited as one of six districts whose plan for implementation “showed progress,” according to King.


If Buffalo’s federal funding is affected, nearly $19 million of total RTTT funding could be at stake as well.


My alma mater, West Valley Central School, is not part of the Buffalo City School District and was able to submit a plan by the end of the year.


WVCS is a K-12 public school located 50 miles south of Buffalo with an enrollment of about 350 students.  This rural school, in comparison to Buffalo City Schools, would receive almost $40,000 in RTTT funding.

Although it looks like West Valley will hold on to its state and federal funding, a crucial component of its budget due to a small property tax base, RTTT isn’t the answer to all of the school’s challenges.


My mother has worked at WVCS for nearly 30 years, the majority of it as a first grade teacher. She has been my own case study of how teachers are affected by New York’s school reform.


She takes issue with the same things the states’ principals did: the evaluation system had no pilot program; the test scores used in evaluations only cover fourth-through-eighth-grade English and math teachers; and the standards for state-wide assessments are inconsistent.


If WVCS adopts a system like that used in Tennessee, the school’s only principal would have to complete four observations a year for every teacher in the building. It also implies that those who teach subjects without test results would have to be partially evaluated based on the scores of teachers with test results. This is unfair to teachers like my mother who would be evaluated to the same degree as a new teacher, with results partially based on someone else’s work.



If we take a second look at where RTTT in New York began, when 91 percent of public school districts endorsed the state’s bid for a grant, only 70 percent of school district submissions included an MOU signed by the local teachers union. Clearly not everyone was on board in the beginning, and it’s beginning to show.


After spending the past 16 months in D.C. attending American University, my eyes have been opened to how complicated city school districts can be. I can understand how desperately my own state’s education department is trying to secure funding for the neediest school districts and provide the highest quality of education possible.


However, I’ve also grown up with two parents working at a rural public school. Implementing new teacher evaluation mandates that degrade teachers and don’t fit all districts’ needs will not encourage excellence from teachers or the students they teach.


It’s the ongoing challenge of balancing reform to the classroom with the reality of the classroom. Here’s to hoping that this year New York can find that balance.



Word Count: 749



[suggested bio]


Christyn Enser is a sophomore at American University in Washington, D.C. and a student blogger for National School Choice Week. She graduated from West Valley Central School in 2010. 

Michael Moore story – final edit

This version of my story on Michael Moore’s speech back in October was the final version I submitted to be graded in last semester’s Reporting class with Professor Jane Hall. Based on her suggestions to improve it, I believe this version is much more direct and interesting.


In this case, second time was the charm.



“Michael Moore discusses activism, new autobiography at Sixth & I Synagogue”


WASHINGTON- Michael Moore called his supporters to political activism and promoted his new autobiography  “Here Comes Trouble: Stories from my Life” at Sixth & I Street Historic Synagogue on Oct. 2.

Moore recalled growing up in the 1950s and 1960s and how, since then, the middle class has weakened as a result of the rich’s greed and the demonization of liberals.

“The rich have overplayed their hand,” he said. “‘Enough’ is the dirtiest word in their vocabulary.”

In his autobiography, Moore recalled his childhood where one wage supported a household; his father received four weeks of paid vacation as a factory worker and his family was fully insured.

“The rich didn’t used to matter,” he said. “There was an unwritten deal between the classes where, if the working class works hard and the rich prosper, you prosper.”

Now, he says, times have changed.

Moore cited the handling of Occupy Wall Street protestors, whom he supports, as an indicator of a national change in mindset.

“More than a thousand [protestors] were arrested on Wall Street this weekend and none were bankers,” he said. “Instead of being hauled off like criminals, [bankers] are being rewarded. I’ve never seen anything more disgusting in my life.”


Moore also called for “the majority” of Americans, who want to “end wars now, implement strong environmental protection laws and ensure women are paid the same as men,” to own the word “liberal.”

“We live in a liberal nation,” he said. “Most Americans are liberals but don’t call themselves that…we ran away [from the word] and made other words so people wouldn’t hate us.”

Moore cited liberal candidates winning the popular vote in presidential elections as evidence, such as President Obama’s 2008 victory.

Despite his support for the political left, he criticized Obama for conceding to the opposing party too much.

“[Obama]’s doing this out of fear or a belief in what he’s doing, which is depressing,” he said. “What happened to him? I want him back.”

The event took a lighter turn as Moore read the audience a chapter from his book. “Bitburg” described the author’s trip to Bitburg, Germany in 1985 with a Jewish friend, whose parents were Holocaust survivors, to protest former President Reagan’s decision to lay a wreath at the graves of Nazi soldiers.

After working for hours to obtain press passes and get through security, he and his friend unfurled a banner reading “They killed my family” when Reagan’s motorcade passed by.

This is just one of many eye-opening accounts in Here Comes Trouble, a book of “non-fiction short stories” which chronicles Moore’s life from childhood to the production of his first documentary, “Roger & Me,” in 1989.

Moore then answered questions and told one audience member that he planned to join protestors at Freedom Plaza downtown this weekend.

“We have the people and the moral and spiritual value of who we are,” he said. “Don’t despair-get involved.”

“WVCS’s golden seniors celebrate 50 years”

Springville Journal article; Thursday, August 25th 2011


This was a story I covered at my Grandmother’s request when she hosted a reunion event for her high school class in August. It was published in the local Springville Journal, a paper I used to contribute articles to in high school.

Enterprise Story – “Distorted Image: Unhealthy Body Perceptions, Eating Disorders and Finding Solutions”

90% of those with eating disorders are women between the ages of 12 and 25 (The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness)

American University Junior Kaitlyn Wozniak has already achieved many of her goals as an undergraduate.

She is a leader in the Alpha Chi Omega sorority, reigning Maryland Miss 2011 and now has her sights set on graduate school to earn a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology.

Despite these accomplishments, however, Wozniak has done something even more incredible in her college career:

She’s beaten anorexia nervosa.

“I was diagnosed with anorexia when I was in my sophomore year of high school and it carried on until my freshman year in college,” she told me as we chatted outside the Davenport Lounge in the School of International Service. “I’ve been fully recovered now for about a year and a half.”

Wozniak’s story is like that of millions of young women between the ages of 12 and 25 who make up 90% of eating disorder cases, according to statistics from The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness.

Anorexia nervosa is the most deadly of these eating disorders and, based on data from the National Eating Disorder Association, has the highest premature mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. Anorexic people have an obsessive fear of weight gain and resort to drastic, even deadly measures like self-starvation in order to maintain a weight far below their Body Mass Index (BMI).

Alan Duffy, a health educator at AU’s Wellness Center who has worked with body image and eating disorders for almost eight years, has seen how many people are affected by eating disorders.

“Once you start doing this work you start discovering how many people around you-friends and loved ones-have gone through the struggle in silence.”

Duffy explained how college students are among those affected, in part because of a high-stress environment that emphasizes perfectionism.

“At an elite institution like this, and with people being in D.C., students feel like they have to do so much to get ahead,” he said. “You take that with a need for control and what’s the thing they have control over? What they eat.”

Often “the media” is also blamed for helping manifest negative body images and eating disorders in young adults.

“I think ‘the media’ does have a huge influence, especially on that age group (12-25),” Michelle McKeever, an AU Sophomore and peer leader of “The Body Project,” said.

“(The media) makes young girls and young boys look at themselves in a different, unhealthy way. In college you want to fit in with people and that can be dangerous because people assume ‘fitting in’ means you have to be the ‘idealistic person’, which includes a ‘perfect body.’”

Duffy emphasized how media don’t cause eating disorders but can worsen unhealthy body images.

“There’s no question that people who have body image dissatisfaction or an eating disorder, if they view media images, it makes them worse,” he said.

However, Duffy also mentioned how people can fight “the media” profiting off of advertizing that promotes unrealistic body images: stop buying it.

“As long as people keep buying, they’ll keep producing it…because they want to make money,” said Duffy. “That’s their sole motivation.”

The solutions for reducing negative body image and eating disorders revolve around a similar theme of individual effort that later spreads to others.

“The best place to start is internally,” Wozniak said. “Becoming comfortable in your own skin involves fighting negative thoughts and surrounding yourself with positive people who don’t make food and excessive exercise a key factor in their lives.”

According to Wozniak, the path to recovery for each person with an eating disorder is very individualized as well.

“There’s no set definition of an eating disorder whatsoever. So when you approach prevention and treatment, you have to base it off of a person’s personality.”

Duffy is in charge of helping students with this process as the eating disorders case manager in the Office of the Dean of Students. He helps students understand what resources are available to them and then helps them “find a good fit” based on factors like location or religious affiliation of the facility.

National programs like “The Body Project” come out of the Wellness Center and train female students like McKeever to facilitate healthier discussions about body image and dispel misconceptions about beauty.

“There are a lot of resources for the AU community,” McKeever said. “But I don’t think people utilize them like they need to a lot of the time.”

You can find the American University Wellness Center on Facebook.

[Alan Duffy interview]

National School Choice Week Blog

Hey everyone,

Last month I began what will be a monthly contribution to the National School Choice Week blog.

The next National School Choice Week is officially January 22-28 2012, but before and after this special annual event its supporters strive to promote “a K-12 education system that provides a wide array of options…that has the flexibility to personalize and motivate students and allow parents to choose the school that is best for their child.” Basically, this is a national movement to revitalize America’s education system, especially the public school sector.

For September’s post, I discussed the lack of school choice in rural areas and problems it creates.

When I spoke with Roberto Rodriguez, special assistant to the president for education, at an on-campus event, he said that one third of the lowest performing schools are in rural areas.

“It’s not just an urban problem,” he said. “We need to double down on this [rural] investment.”

Rodriguez calls rural schools “potential labs of change,” referring to their isolation and chance to “start over.”

“We need to make working at a rural school an attractive option for teachers,” he explained. “That’s why we’re looking into creating housing options for teachers who can move into rural areas. We also see the importance of creating distance learning partnerships with local colleges and universities.”

As a NSCW student blogger, I’ll continue to discuss issues in education throughout the months ahead.

I hope you check out some of the posts as National School Choice Week approaches.



Update: “Behind the Counter: Taylor Gourmet”

Hey everyone,

Recently, my story on Taylor Gourmet in Bethesda was published in an online community-oriented paper called “Patch”. After turning the story in for class, I edited it based on my Professor’s recommendations and had it approved for online publication. I hope you enjoy the new version of my story on this local hoagie shop.



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