Newsletter: October - 2015


Already, it's that time of year again. The summer has slyly slid past us, and countless NSF students are back at school.
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Yet, even with school running for many, the NSF Finals Competition (August 29 – 30) in Columbus, Ohio was packed! Congratulations to all the participants, winners, parents, and volunteers for all their time and hard work. Each year, the Finals grow larger, and NSF grows more proud of its kind and hard-working community. As the NSF community grows, so do the opportunities at the Finals. This year, NSF parents and family had the chance to watch the competition live online, thanks to YuppTV, a platinum sponsor. Even though I wasn't at the event, I tuned in to watch my brother at the math bee. Furthermore, activities and workshops during the event have become more comprehensive.

Years ago, these simply started as bee specific info sessions. This year, they ranged from meditation and memory improvement to a Rubik’s cube workshop. Even the bee book has progressed. This year, the book was well designed and printed completely in color, thanks to the volunteers and sponsors (image of the bee book is shown to the left). On behalf of the attendees, I want to give a special shout out to the volunteers who organized the competition. I was so impressed by the thoughtful planning to accommodate the large crowd: lines were kept short, parking was alphabetical and easy, and awards ceremony crowds were smartly split. The detailed planning paid off, and I'm sure many parents around the country appreciate it.

In this issue, we bring to you several school and college oriented articles. You may have heard of Pooja Chandrashekar in the news, a student who earned admission to all eight ivies. In that spirit, we bring you our article on how to plan your route to get into the college you want. However, we also realize your route to success doesn't have to be through an Ivy, or even through a college. There are a growing number of students bulldozing their own paths to great careers. To counter pressures of getting into a top rated college, we bring to you a controversial article on the growing nontraditional routes to success. We even include an interview with one such nontraditional program, Make School. We encourage you regard the three articles in conjunction. They come from very different angles on academia and success, and form a bigger picture from which you can form your own opinion.

We would like to introduce our newest member, Meena Venkataramanan, 6th place ranker at HOSA's National Medical Spelling Bee. She brings to us an interview with Sadhana Durbha, champion of the same Bee. Next, an NSF alumni shares their APNA experience – an ambassador program through which high schoolers and college students can travel to India to lead and teach educational courses. This program not only gives back to students in India but also develops the ambassador’s teaching, leadership, communication, and perspective. More information is available at http://northsouth.org/app11/APNA/Index . Finally, for our kid readers, we bring you our favorite kids’ books right now, complete with reviews. Enjoy!

Shrinidhi Thirumalai
NSF Newsletter Editorial Team Member
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HOSA. The name might ring a bell to those of us in high school, but to many others, it’s just an acronym with an unknown meaning.
Hi Everyone!
           My name is Meena Venkataramanan. I’m a junior in high school and I’m honored to be a part of the NSF Newsletter Team. I hail from Tucson, Arizona, and have participated in many NSF contests, both locally and nationally. Some of my favorite contests are the Essay Writing Bee, the Public Speaking Bee, and the Vocabulary Bee. In 2012, my writing was featured in the NSF National Finals Bee Book, and in 2013, I placed third in the National Swami Vivekananda Essay Contest that NSF conducted. Since then, my passion for writing has only augmented, so I am extremely excited to be able to share my thoughts and experiences with the NSF community.
HOSA, which formerly stood for Health Occupation Students of America, is a worldwide organization that conducts events for students interested in pursuing health professions. These events include Health Science Events, like Medical Spelling and Pathophysiology; Health Professions Events, like Biomedical Laboratory Science and Clinical Nursing; Emergency Preparedness Events, like Epidemiology and CPR/First Aid; Leadership Events, like Researched Persuasive Speaking and Medical Photography; and Teamwork Events, like Medical Innovation and Biomedical Debate, among many others. Additionally, awards for health-related volunteering and involvement with the Medical Reserve Corps are also offered to hardworking students. But HOSA is more than just a competition- it’s an opportunity to grow as a future health professional. With chapters in high schools (and even colleges) all over the United States, HOSA gives students the opportunity to meet and shadow health professionals like doctors, nurses, and medical technicians, give back to the community by registering as organ or blood donors, and learn about diseases by visiting labs and attending sessions at statewide leadership conferences.

It was fate that I joined HOSA last year. After switching my course schedule to take Anatomy and Physiology, a class offered at my school, I discovered HOSA through the teacher. I attended the informational meeting, and thought the club sounded interesting, so I stuck with it. Little did I know all the opportunities HOSA would offer me in the coming months. I had the opportunity to meet a psychiatrist, walk to raise awareness of Cystic Fibrosis, and, of course, compete at the state and national levels in Medical Spelling, one of the Health Science Events. Medical Spelling is a competitive event that features a written round and an oral round. The written round is a 50-question multiple-choice test in which the correct spelling of a medical term must be determined given its definition, while the oral round is a spelling bee containing only medical terms. Performers in the top 50% of the written round advance to the oral round.

Many states have regional and state competitions. A competitor must place in the top three to advance to the next level of competition.

At nationals, I made the Top 10, finishing 6th place in my event. A more complete list of winners is available at http://hosa.org/node/138. While at nationals, I also met and befriended the winner of the competition, Sadhana Durbha. After placing first in her region and third in her state, Sadhana attended nationals, where she won after spelling “radiculomeningomyelitis,” meaning an inflammation of the meninges, spinal cord, and spinal nerve roots. I had the opportunity to interview Sadhana about her experience, while simultaneously sharing my own experiences at and tips for at HOSA Nationals.

Meena: Hi Sadhana, it’s nice to meet you. Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Sadhana: Hi Meena, it’s nice to meet you, too. I am from Suwanee, Georgia and I am a rising junior at Lambert High School. Currently, I am enrolled in the healthcare pathway at my school and HOSA is the club I am most active in.

Meena: Could you explain to us how your interest in spelling began?
Sadhana: My interest in spelling began when I was five years old, through my cousins. My cousins attended the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which served as an inspiration. NSF was a great organization in which I got my start and I still continue to compete in NSF competitions in the area of public speaking.

Meena: How did your interest in the health profession begin?

Sadhana: My mother is a pediatrician and I have always been interested in what she does, and from time to time I have shadowed her as well. I think it’s amazing that everyday as a doctor, you can help a person get better and even save his or her life.

Meena: How long have you been a part of HOSA? What health occupation interests you the most?
Sadhana: I have been in HOSA since the beginning of ninth grade, and it is my favorite club and the club I am most involved in at school. The health occupation that interests me the most is pediatric neurosurgery. I love working with and helping little kids, and the brain is an organ that fascinates me.

Meena: Could you explain to us how NSF helped you succeed at HOSA?
Sadhana: NSF was where I got my start in spelling bees. If it had not been for NSF, I probably never would have gotten an early start in spelling. NSF also motivated me to reach higher and farther and exceed in spelling bees.

Meena: Which NSF contests have you participated in? Which have been your favorites?
Sadhana: I have participated in the spelling bee, math bee, geography bee, public speaking contests, and essay writing contests. I had been to nationals in math, geography, and spelling. In 2008, as a third grader, I placed 8th at NSF nationals in the spelling bee. Of these contests, my favorites have been the spelling bee, geography bee, and public speaking contests.

Meena: What was your study technique? Can you explain to us how you persisted and stuck to it? How can those who enter Medical Spelling in the future expect to prepare?
Sadhana: Before state, I was reading the dictionary and entered words from Mosby’s Medical Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Health Professions that I didn’t know into Quizlet (an online flashcard site). I also studied other Quizlet lists a couple of days before the competition. For nationals I began to study three weeks before the competition and read through the dictionary two more times, entering words into Quizlet and studying my Quizlet lists. I read 200 pages a day while rereading the first time, and the second time I just read through it for the root words so I read 500 pages a day. It was really hard to stick to the plan at times because some days I couldn’t get home until five in the afternoon, at which point I had to start reading for the day. Some days I had to skip parties to study and some days I stayed up until two in the morning just to finish reading the 200 pages. I just kept my mind on placing at nationals and this motivated me to just keep reading.

Meena: In addition to studying medical dictionaries, it is also helpful to check out basic medical guides, human body atlases, and medical journals. These resources have lots of medical terms in them that are useful to study. Also, learning terms that don’t have Latin or Greek roots is also important, since they cannot be spelled as easily as Latin- or Greek-derived terms can.
Meena: When you’re not studying for HOSA or busy with school, what are some of your interests?
Sadhana: Some of my interests include drawing, singing, dance, playing the piano, and making jewelry. I have entered several art contests and some of my artwork has won prizes. I take classes for Carnatic music and Kuchipudi.

Meena: What advice do you have to give to incoming high-schoolers who are interested in the health profession?
Sadhana: I think HOSA is a great club for rising high-schoolers to discover what the health profession really entails. HOSA was my steppingstone into the medical field. In addition, I would really encourage shadowing different doctors in order to get a feel for what each specialty encompasses and to be sure of going into the medical field.

Meena: As an add-on to Sadhana’s answer, I would also recommend volunteering at a hospital or healthcare center. Health-related volunteer hours are invaluable in showing your commitment to the medical profession, and will provide a firsthand experience of what it is like to work directly with patients or in an administrative setting. In addition to hospital volunteering, doing research on health-related topics in high school is invaluable to further your interest in the medical field. Many universities offer internships for high-school students to collaborate with scientists and do research. If these are not offered, reaching out to a scientist you know (or have heard of) and asking to shadow in their lab is always a good idea and will truly demonstrate your commitment and interest in medicine and health.
Meena: What are some of your hopes and goals for the future?
Sadhana: : I want to go to Emory University for my undergraduate degree then to Duke University for medical school. After that, I want to complete my surgical residency and become a pediatric neurosurgeon.

Meena: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
Sadhana: I just want to take this opportunity to thank you for giving me this chance and also to thank NSF for giving me such a strong foundation in spelling.

Clearly, NSF has been a stepping stone for both Sadhana and me in our medical spelling endeavors, just as it has for many other students in their academic pursuits. Above all, the national competition was a great experience to demonstrate accumulated knowledge and learn more about HOSA, and many NSF participants placed in their events. To see the list of people who placed in the Top 10 in each event, please visit: http://nlc.hosa.org/sites/default/files/Sec2015Winners.pdf.
Meena Venkataramanan
NSF Newsletter Editorial Team Member
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By participating in NSF contests and thus demonstrating a desire to learn outside the classroom – to go above and beyond from a young age – NSF children are clearly setting themselves on the pathway towards a life full of learning. They will have the privilege of choosing from a multitude of opportunities to be educated, some of which we explore in this edition of the newsletter. One such NSF participant who has taken every opportunity she can to learn – and to give back to her community – is Pooja Chandrashekar, the student from Virginia who made headlines earlier this year for gaining admission to all eight of the prestigious Ivy League colleges. Pooja has since decided to attend Harvard University and study biomedical engineering.

So, who is Pooja?
A top student at her competitive magnet high school, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Pooja began challenging herself intellectually at a young age. She pursued her interests in robotics and engineering every summer, and explored the areas of programming and robot design. She took diffucult but stimulating classes – artificial intelligence, computing, DNA science – at the Nysmith School in Herndon and her high school whenever she could. It is this mindset, the mindset to seize every opportunity and intellectual hurdle presented to her, that allowed her to pursue her interests in STEM, though she was often one of a handful of girls in what continues to be a male-dominated field.
In addition to having stellar test scores, Pooja also wanted to give back to her community. She founded ProjectCSGirls, a nonprofit organization dedicated to closing the gender gap in technical fields by running a national Computer Science (CS) competition for middle school girls (registration for the 2016 competition will open September 15th). Founded in summer 2013, the organization is now successful on a national basis – yet another expression of Pooja’s motivation and passion for her endeavors.
And it was that mindset, that drive to succeed, and that ambition that each Ivy League school must have seen in her. They could not pass up having a student like her. We at NSF would like to heartily congratulate Pooja on her success, wish her the best at Harvard and beyond, and thank her for being an inspiration to NSF students and families alike. We would also like to encourage NSF students to pursue their interests, whatever they may be – for as in the case of Pooja, pursuit of passion will ultimately lead to success.

Ramya Auroprem
NSF Newsletter Editorial Team Member
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Note: This article and the last come from very different angles on academia and success. They form a bigger picture from which you can form your own opinion.

Let's talk about college. What comes to your mind when you think of the word “college”? Maybe you think of the “top universities”. Maybe you think of the insane competition to get into college. Maybe you remember those SATs, APs, and personal statements. These are all understandable responses. Now how do you feel, thinking of those things? I know how I feel – overwhelmed, restricted, and pressured. The fact is, the college admissions process is exhausting and in the end, it may just come down to chance, or unfair advantages. Many high schoolers, especially Asian Americans, feel intense pressure to overcome what is often a rigged game.
Of course this isn't how everyone feels, but the pressure is swelling, causing more and more students and parents alike to go to desperate measures. Businesses have responded to this opportunity in questionable ways. Sometimes, there is cheating. Certain tutors near competitive high schools may distribute old test papers of a class to their students. Other times, the price of courses and counselors kill the wallet. SAT classes such as Elite charge extremely high fees to guarantee higher test scores. These are only two examples of a much larger college admission system that preys on money and morals. Many are hurt – either from giving in to the system or having their admission challenged by those who do.

If you are one of the many high schoolers or parents who can relate, perhaps it'll be good for you to take a step back and think about the bigger picture. You may have more options than you realize. As times are changing, you can get a high paying, satisfying, and very educated future from other routes. Admission to your dream college isn't as defining as you may make it out to be. I've compiled a list of options for you to consider below.

1. Second time the charm?
If you don't get accepted into colleges you like on your first try, it's not the end all be all. You can always try again later, with newer experiences that set you apart from the crowd. There's a couple ways you can do this.

If you're looking to save some money, consider going to a community college and transferring to the college you're aiming for afterwards. Many community colleges have affiliations that make the transferring process a lot easier than the freshman admissions process. You have a much higher chance, and your diploma will only show the college you graduate from. Though there may be some social stigma against this option, they aren't very substantiated.

If that's not your cup of tea, consider a gap year. Take a year off doing something of value, and reapply with your new experiences after a year. In fact, this maturity may even help in college. So many students come in unsure about their major, and stumble through college searching. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that approach, but a gap year can allow you to do that searching outside of college, and maximize your classes for your future plans. A gap year has many options. Many travel organizations cater specifically for “gappies”, and allow you to go abroad to another country for volunteer work. Though these promote growth and are great for gaining perspective, they can also often be expensive. Another great option is an internship. This can let you test an industry to see if it's what you want to pursue a degree for, and gain experience to add to your resume. If you're having trouble landing an internship, maybe offer to do an unpaid one. Many startups will accept, and be thankful for the extra help.

In summary, if you don't get into where you want, maybe you want to try again. Second time's the charm!

2. What about those amazing colleges you haven't heard of?
Not all colleges with a great education system are on your “top 100” college list. They may be newer, or they just may not have that same publicity. For example, I go to Olin College of Engineering, a small engineering school near Boston created a decade ago. It's not nearly as known as MIT or the Ivies by the common person. However, is it known by tech businesses, and people in the field of engineering. Google, Microsoft, and many others love our college's mission – creating a new type of engineer that is more focused on users and learns by doing. The majority of students here are accepted into high paying jobs at known companies immediately after graduation. I'm not trying to sell Olin to you, but rather make a point that you can have great opportunities at colleges you may not even know of. There are many, many other colleges like Olin, special in their own way, with many industry connections. Do your research and ask around to find to find those niche colleges that may be perfect for you.

3. Consider new industry driven, learning programs.
You can learn skills for the industry outside of a traditional college education system. These programs are often funded by companies, and focus on practical skill building. They have strong networks and connections you can use to land a job right after. One example of such is Make School, a two year college residential replacement program in San Francisco. Their aim is to replace the need for computer science degrees. The program focuses on providing both the soft and hard skills you need for your software career, through a nontraditional project based approach. Make School is one example of countless such programs, and we have interviewed them in our next article. However, these programs may be really hard to find in a cursory Google search. Ask people you know, especially mentors and contacts who may know the area, to learn what all your options are.

4. Do it yourself.
In this tech age, a college diploma isn't the only road to success. Maybe college isn't for you. Now please, realize this is a highly controversial view, and realize this path is not for everyone. If you learn best in a more structured and supportive setting, this is not for you. However, perhaps you have an amazing idea for a startup and have the connections, mentors, and resources to make it happen. Warning: you will fail. Your parents and mentors will warn you of failure, and they are right. This is not a path of freedom and ease – you are out in the open sea without college’s structured lifeboats, and you won’t stay afloat on your first try. However, if you accept it doesn't have to end there, this may be a viable path for you. You can try again after a failure, in a different start up, different internship, and keep going. There have been several successful entrepreneurs who have done so. In today's tech world, if you have an arsenal of challenging projects and companies you've worked with, and can show it, people will want to hire you, diploma or not.

Please do take this idea with a grain of salt. This suggestion is also very dependent of the field you are planning to go towards – while tech has a huge opportunity for example, you will need an extensive college education to become a doctor. Also, this was not as possible in the past, and well-wishing elders may rightfully fear for you. However, if you have done your research and can convince yourself and your mentors this path is reasonable for you, then who am I to stop you? To get started, I recommend reading “Hacking Your Education” by Dale J. Stephens.

Shrinidhi Thirumalai
NSF Newsletter Editorial Team Member
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Many students begin planning for college very early on and are loath to consider any other options. It’s almost as if a social stigma binds us to the impression that college is the only way to become an acceptable member of society. However, there are alternatives to a traditional college experience. Once such alternative for software engineers is Make School, a two-year program where you get hands-on experience in the computer science industry and learn the skills that startups and big tech companies are looking for. We interviewed one of the co-founders of Make School, Jeremy Rossman, to find out more.
Varsha: What prompted you to start Make School?
Jeremy: I wasn’t satisfied with the quality of my first CS course in college. After launching my first game on the App Store, I realized that computer science was uniquely positioned to be taught in a project based manner, and that learning by doing was the best path to a career in tech for aspiring software engineers.

Varsha: What makes it better or more practical than a normal college education?
Jeremy: Our curriculum was built in collaboration with industry, our instructors are engineers, not academics, and everything is project based. Students are trying to build the best products possible, not get the best grade possible. We are located in San Francisco and students have frequent opportunities to network with investors, founders, and developers in the valley.

Varsha: Students have already graduated from Make School’s founding class. Do you think the members of this class have done well in the real world? Is there anything you’ll be changing in subsequent classes?
Jeremy: Yes, most are making between 90-120k/year in software engineering roles with a lot of room for career growth. Next year we are including more of a non-technical curriculum - design, communication, politics, and ethics are some of the topics we are putting more of a focus on.

Varsha: Is Make School only targeted towards computer scientists?
Jeremy: We are targeted at aspiring founders and developers.

Varsha: Do you think people from other fields could benefit from Make School, or a similar college replacement experience?
Jeremy: Yes, I think there is room for a design focused program similar to Make School.
Varsha: Can you tell me of any moment where you were really proud of what Make School has done?

Jeremy:Seeing the products our students have built in school truly impact the lives of others has been an amazing experience.

College may seem like a mandatory step to becoming an accomplished individual, but perhaps that’s simply a product of society telling us what to do. If college doesn’t seem like the right place for you, or if you’re looking for a more applied education than college, remember that solutions exist; maybe it’s time to step off the beaten path.
Varsha Ramakrishnan
NSF Newsletter Editorial Team Member
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“We want to learn more English. When are you coming back to our school?” one of the boys asked when I stepped outside of the classroom. At that moment, I was beaming and happy that I had made a difference in their lives. Being an APNA Youth Ambassador was one of the best experiences I have ever had. I arranged my one week workshop at S.M.Y.R.R. High School in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh.




It was a personal connection for me, as my grandfather was a former principal at the school. The current principal helped me with starting each day with everything I need. The local NSF Vijayawada chapter coordinator, Mr. Surapaneni Venkata Ratnam, helped me get in touch with school and plan the week. Additionally, my mother got in touch with Mr. Venkat Gade and he provided us with all the information necessary to make my workshop as successful as possible.


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Every day for a week, I came in for an hour and a half to teach the seventh grade, which consisted of about 50 students. I taught the basic spelling rules of English which consisted of plurals, prefixes, suffixes, and numbers. The four days were great and many kids participated in answering questions. The kids were so ecstatic and eager to learn as much as possible. During break time, kids would come up to me and ask me countless questions about me.


“Do you have a brother or sister, Anna?” “How is America, Anna?” “Do you like English, Anna?” The questions were endless, but I understood their curiosity. They never had guest teachers to their school and this workshop was something very new to them. After a great four days of teaching the kids, we had the competition in an exam which consisted of the rules I taught them. Most of the kids did well and I was very proud that I had taught them well. However, the scores were very close. We had separate awards for boys and girls. The award ceremony was attended by the entire school and we gave the winners writing and grammar books. This is an experience I will never forget. Last but not least, I would like to thank S.M.Y.R.R. High School, the teachers, Principal Krishna Kumar, Local NSF Coordinator Mr. Surapaneni Venkata Ratnam, Mr.Venkat Gade, and North South Foundation for giving me this opportunity.


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Vamsi Desu
NSF APNA Youth Ambassador
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Hi Everyone!
           My name is Meena Venkataramanan. I’m a junior in high school and I’m honored to be a part of the NSF Newsletter Team. I hail from Tucson, Arizona, and have participated in many NSF contests, both locally and nationally. Some of my favorite contests are the Essay Writing Bee, the Public Speaking Bee, and the Vocabulary Bee. In 2012, my writing was featured in the NSF National Finals Bee Book, and in 2013, I placed third in the National Swami Vivekananda Essay Contest that NSF conducted. Since then, my passion for writing has only augmented, so I am extremely excited to be able to share my thoughts and experiences with the NSF community.
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NSF has impacted me significantly ever since I came to know about it in the third grade. I’ve developed a growth mindset, a competitive spirit, and made tons of new friends from different states. Plus, I got to visit the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit during the 2012 National Finals, which was an unforgettable experience for someone who knew almost nothing about cars prior to the visit. To say the least, every experience I’ve had because of NSF has resulted in me learning something new, for which I am incredibly grateful.

Outside of NSF, I am an ardent speaker and debater, a HOSA state champion and chapter officer, and a purveyor of juvenile justice through my long-term experience volunteering with a local, nonprofit diversion program for adolescent misdemeanants called Teen Court, among other endeavors. Overall, I enjoy serving and advocating for others, and I aspire to continue to do so in the future.

Above all, I hope that writing for this newsletter will inspire the NSF community by opening its eyes to new opportunities, experiences, and attitudes. With that, I hope you all enjoy this issue of the North South Foundation Newsletter.

Meena Venkataramanan
NSF Newsletter Editorial Team Member
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        There’s no better way to kick off a new school year than with a backpack full of new books to read. Now that summer is ending and school is starting, it’s even more important to continue reading and get back in touch with literature. Reading is critical to educational success, and these books, hand-picked for different age levels, are the perfect way to start off the season. Apart from being enjoyable, each of these books carries a special meaning and lesson that we can take along with us as we start a new journey. Happy reading! Ages 7-9 These books were picked because they are written at a level that is challenging but achievable for second, third, and fourth graders, and because of the storylines and messages that young readers can easily relate to.
  • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia is an honest, relatable historical fiction book about a young African American girl who takes her sisters on a trip to visit the mother who abandoned them. In the meantime, they become swept up in the historical civil rights movement in California. The sisters have to come to terms with what it means to be African-American, as well as making peace with their mother, a revolutionary poet. It teaches readers the importance of sticking together in times of difficulty.
  • The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate is a touching story about a captive gorilla named Ivan who lives in a zoo. Ivan’s life revolves around learning to draw and making friends with the new baby elephant, but instead his life is completely changed.
  • The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke is a gripping fantasy story about two boys who run away from home and live in an abandoned theater in Venice with a group of children, led by the Thief Lord. The plot is as intricate and fantastic as Venice itself, teaching the readers that people aren’t always who you think they are.
  • Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech is a book that can be enjoyed by all ages. It’s about an elderly couple that adopts two mistreated twins to live with them on the sweet old farm of Ruby Holler. Young readers will enjoy the touching message of the story- that family is the people who love you, even if you’re not related.
  • Holes by Louis Sachar is an all-time favorite that every elementary school student should read. This darkly humorous tale features a boy named Stanley who is mistakenly sent to a detention camp in which all inmates are made to dig holes each day. However, the story is about more than just juvenile crime- it focuses on good deeds and seeing the good in people.
  • Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater is another favorite amongst younger readers. The whimsical story is about a man who adopts a group of penguins from Antarctica and raises them to do tricks, but learns about the danger of over-ambition. Check out the movie once you’ve read the book!
  • Signal by Cynthia DeFelice is a gripping story about a young boy who befriends a girl from another planet- only it turns out that her life is not nearly as magical, or truthful, as she claims for it to be. The deeper meanings in the book will be a pleasure to understand for more advanced readers.
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scot O’Dell is another classic from the past century. It’s about a native girl who is stranded on an island for many years, and what she learns while living alone. The writing is simple enough for younger readers to follow, but the rich storyline can be enjoyed by all.
Ages 10-12
  • Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer is a beautiful story about beating the odds to stand up for what you believe in, no matter what. Readers will laugh and cry along with the lovable characters: Hope, a girl who moves to a new city to start a restaurant, G.T., a man dying of cancer who wants to run for mayor against a corrupt government, and so much more.
  • Walk Two Moons is a book everyone should read. Written in a fascinating dual chronology is the story of a half-native American girl named Salamanca who embarks on a roadtrip with her grandparents to find her mother. She, and the readers, learn through the beautiful and thought-provoking book that there’s two sides to every story.
  • Shakespeare’s Secret by Elizabeth Broach will be enjoyed by both history and mystery lovers alike! It’s about a boy, a girl, and their elderly neighbor who become unlikely friends while searching for a Shakespearean diamond. The book teaches both Shakespeare’s beautiful lessons with more modern ones about friendship.
  • The Devil’s Apprentice by Jane Yolen is about a modern Jewish girl named Hannah who is transported back in time and experiences the Holocaust as her counterpart, Chaya. She returns to the present with a new understanding about the importance of remembering and honoring your heritage.
  • Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George is a whimsical tale about a girl named Creel who refuses to be a damsel in distress on anyone’s terms but her own. She befriends dragons, defeats spoiled princesses, and opens her own sewing shop in this enjoyable twist on the classic fairytale.
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson is a timeless classic that is guaranteed to bring tears to every readers’ eyes. It’s about the friendship of a quiet, angry boy named Jesse and an outgoing, tomboy girl named Leslie. Leslie teaches Jesse to let go of anger and be fearless- which both Jesse and the readers will have to put to the test when tragedy strikes.
  • The Mailbox by Audrey Shafer is another touching tale of unlikely friendship between an orphaned boy named Gabe and a Vietnam War veteran who is suffering from PTSD. Both Gabe and his mysterious penpal, who leaves him letters every day, use each other to grow and heal past their inner wounds.
  • Love, Aubrey is about rebuilding from loss. Young Audrey has lost her family in a car crash, and when living with her grandmother she makes new friends and learns to build afresh.
  • Rules by Cynthia Lorde is a must-read story about unconditional love for family, even if they can’t always be the way you want. A girl named Catherine’s entire life revolves around her younger brother David, who has autism, and sometimes it gets really hard. However, she learns to love David and live with him no matter what.
  • Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper is a thought-provoking story narrated by Melody, a girl who’s smarter than most others her age- except she can’t say so, because she has a condition called cerebral palsy that causes her to be immobile in a wheelchair and unable to talk. Melody learns to rise up against the challenge, and the book teaches readers that no matter how “weird” they seem, everyone deserves to be respected.
Ages 13+
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou is a classic that all girls should read. The heartfelt autobiography addresses the challenges of a young African American girl growing up in the South, and the hardships she overcomes. There is some adult content in the book, so it is only recommended for ages 13+.
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is a touching book about how important it is to speak up and stand up for yourself. Teenager Melanie was attacked the previous summer, causing the police to break up a party and everyone at school to hate her. She feels misunderstood- until she finally gains the courage to speak.
  • Paper Towns by John Green is a life-changing book that completely changes the way the reader views the people around them. Written in the world-popular John Green style is the story of a teenage boy named Q whose life is changed by his neighbor, Margo, who is an “entity unto herself.” When Margo disappears and Q has to find her, he realizes that the fantastic and incredible Margo he thought he knew was actually just a confused girl, leading us to learn that in the end of the day, people are just people.
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee is another American classic about a young girl growing up in a racist town. Guided by her moral father, she is exposed to the evils of society and learns to cope with them. The novel teaches readers to view the world through another’s eyes before you judge them.
Malavika Kannan
NSF Newsletter Editorial Team Member
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Do you have a story, poem, essay, or some artwork to share? Please send an e-mail with the attachments to nsf-editor-team@googlegroups.com. In addition to your entry, please send in a scanned copy of your photograph, name of your school and city, your grade level, and your hobbies.

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Ramya Auroprem, Shrinidhi Thirumalai, Malavika Kannan, Varsha Ramakrishnan, Ferdine Silva, Meena Venkataramanan, and Madhav Durbha

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