Candy Land – Student Voices (Guest Post)

Once you’re alive, can you ever really be dead? 

Candy Land is a personal narrative written by one of my students, Kayla Paterson. This story, Kayla intertwines the past and the present to explore the power of life, death memories, and board games. 

Meet the Writer

Kayla Patterson is a 12th grade student at Robbinsville High School (New Jersey). She plans on attending Hampton University and majoring in Computer Science.

Dedication: To my cousin, Aliya, who will be forever missed and who will live forever in my heart, in the Candy Land Castle.

Over a sea of black dresses and suits the Pastor took a deep breath, “You may proceed to the casket.”

Rising from the red velvet church benches, tissue in hand, I managed to take a few steps to the casket. Listening to the hymns in the background, I remembered playing Candy Land with her.

Ten years ago, I was seven and all I ever wanted to do was play Candy Land.

I was meeting my cousin Aliya for the first time too, so in my mind all I could think about was having a play buddy and hoping she like Candy Land as much as I did.

Ding dong.

I ran to the door and reached for the knob. My face turned with confusion when the door didn’t open. My mom came running down the hallway with one hand covered with an oven mitt. She unlocked the door and I smiled and pulled, wondering what I would see on the other side.

Standing was a tall girl with a round face. Her big brown eyes took the frame of her dark glasses. Her braids swayed right above her hips, the smell of strawberry perfumed lingering in the doorway.

“Hey Kayla,”Aliya said while scooping down to my level. “So what are we going to do?”

Being seven and meeting people for the first time always scared, but Aliya was different.

I took her hand with a smile and led her to the family room. I told her how to play the game Candy Land and she was eager to start the game, we both sat right across from each other with the board in between us.

I took Princess Frostine – the blue princess and Aliya choose King Kandy.

I took the die and rolled it with all of my force. Five spaces. I moved my Princess Frostine closer to the Candy Castle.

Five spaces to the casket.

I could see the outline of her body. Silky black curls fallen on her ruby red dress. Her eyes shut, as if dreaming about her plans after college. Just 23. Just a girl with a dream.

Aliya, took the next card from the deck and eyed me down. My serious, seven year old eyes told her that I was not playing around.

“Ha, it looks like you need to move your Princess Frostine four spaces back, and you thought you were close to winning this game,” she said with a smile.

I took my Princess Frostine and moved it back four spaces, staring down my cousin while I did it.

Four spaces away from the casket.

I see her face. Silver eyeshadow, red lipstick, some blush here and there. She was beautiful to be dead.

“You think you can beat the master at this game?” I questioned my cousin.

I yanked the card from the deck and smiled realizing I just gained three forward spaces. Taking my Princess Frostine and moving it through Candy Cane Forest, I was almost to the Candy Castle. Aliya stared at me and she knew I was about to win this game.

Three spaces away from the casket.

I started to cry. I was close to reaching her. So close of touching her hand. Touching the hands she helped me deal cards with at a young age, trying to explain gambling to me. Touching the hands that were sticky from the lemonade we tried to make in the kitchen.

“Ha, I’m two spaces away Kayla,” Aliya said. Her big brown eyes followed the smooth movement of King Kandy jumping spaces between my Princess Frostine.

Two spaces between me and the casket.

The flowers she held were edged in gold. She was so similar to me. She was an only child, she wore glasses and she just wanted a good life.

“Not so fast cousin!” I only needed one more space to win the Candy Land Game.

I grabbed the die, shook it and released it with all my might. Our eyes lunged at the twirl of the die.

The die slowly spun to a halt.

My face slowly lit up when I saw one dot. I grabbed my Princess Frostine piece and did a small victory lap before I made it into the Candy Land Castle.

“And the victory goes to me! Take that cousin!”

Aliya laughed, “Nice game.”

One more space between me and the casket.

I step forward.

I touched her hand and I closed my eyes imagining her with me, imagining her breathing, alive, and well. She still smelled like strawberries.

“I’ll meet you again Aliya. One day, at the Gumdrop Castle.” 

We cleaned up the board game and as she left, she smiled, “Don’t worry you’ll see me again. You owe me a rematch.”

My uncle looked down at his daughter for one last time and kissed her forehead. The casket closed and I watched it rolled down the aisle, out the church and into the morning light.

My big 7 years old eyes stared at her and said, “Next time we’ll have that rematch. But until next time”

Until next time.


I stared at my uncle. Though I ached with absolute sadness, I felt Aliya alive my heart. I knew that as long as I stoke the memories of her she will always be alive.

On that day I learned no one is ever really dead.

The Strength in Weakness- Student Voices (Guest Post)

Vulnerable and powerful, The Strength in Weakness is an unflinching personal narrative written by one of my female students about her dangerous attempts to achieve the physical perfection. 

In the age of social media, the social pressures to conform to conventional notions of beauty are dangerously high for teenagers, especially for females. 

The Strength in Weakness captures the physical and emotional pain that girls often endure to as they desperately try to satisfy society’s unrealistic demands of beauty. 

Meet the Writer

Sydney Flyge is 12th grade student at Robbinsville High School (New Jersey) and plans on attending Clemson University or the University of Washington in the fall of 2018.

Sydney intends to double major in psychology and Nutritional Science in hopes of, one day, being able to help people overcome obstacles pertaining to nutrition and mental health, as someone once helped her. 

Pat, pat, pat, pat

The sound of footsteps hitting the pavement matched the beat of the music infiltrating my ears. A dull ache enveloped my quadriceps and calf muscles. The ache slowly spread like a drop of food coloring on a paper towel, across my stomach, up my back, eventually reaching my deltoids and biceps.

Pat, pat, pat, pat.

The aching intensified.

My muscles screaming

I did not enjoy the struggle of my run.

The slow, thumping drum beats in my temples matched those of my heart, decelerating with every passing step. I realized that the dull ache of starvation in all of my muscles meant that I could feel them breaking down. The outer edges of my vision blackened each time my foot made contact with asphalt. Trapped, surrounded by trees in a cornfield on the middle school’s property in the dead of summer, I thought about dying.

And I remember realizing that no one would find me there.

I accelerated with the intention of making it only as far as the Pond Road Middle School parking lot. A place where my mom, or an ambulance, could easily pick me up.

I dug deep to overcome the shallow breaths depriving my starving muscles and organs of oxygen, I made it the half mile it took to get back to the parking lot.

I was lucky.

Surprised at my own accomplishment upon reaching the access road between the middle school and high school, I heard a familiar voice in the back of my head. She said: You just made it a half mile, what’s the one and a half more it takes to get home? If you quit now you’re weak. If you call your mom, she will get upset. You do not want to make her upset do you? And then she will tell your dad. And when he gets home he’ll shovel that fattening protein powder into a blender bottle and ask you to drink it in front of him. Do you know how many calories are in that protein powder? Don’t be weak.

My legs carried me the last mile and a half home. 8 miles. I had to eat a tangerine prior to entering the shower, to avoid collapsing.

35 calories.

In the moments between the tangerine and passing a mirror en route to the shower, my emaciated frame was covered by a thin, yet visible, layer of fat.

Frail shaking fingers grazed the skin under my belly button. My abdominal muscles, although toned and hollow, felt squishy. Suddenly I could no longer see the grooves in between every rib, my predominant collar bone vanished, my thighs thickened and my face swelled.

35 calories.

Exiting the shower, I dried myself and labored to my bedroom. Dressed in underwear and a fitted tank top, I stood gaping at my reflection. Contemplating the image before me for what could have been hours, I studied every crevice, every limb, from every angle.

I uncapped a black expo marker and began marking up my reflection. I circled my thighs, my obliques, my neck, the backs of my arms. My problem areas. With imperfections to remove, I needed to fake my usual ailments to escape dinner.

“I feel nauseous.”

“Well maybe you need to put something in your tummy?” My mom returned hopelessly.

“That would make it worse,” I started, “I think I’ll just go to bed early.”

“Okay” She agreed with silent protest.

Once upstairs and safely on the other side of my bedroom door, I turned the lock and approached my closet. Pushing aside heavy jackets to reveal the weights I had hidden on the shelves behind them. The bruises lining my spine from muscling through a thousands of sit-ups.

I stopped after I burned 35.

I had worked off the tangerine.

But then her voice echoed in the back of my mind. You could keep going. No one would know. Don’t be weak.

I continued.

My luck lasted for months. Allowing me to push and push without any potentially lethal consequences.

Pat, pat, pat pat.

Then, one day my luck ran out.

Pat, pat, pa—.

And that was the luckiest thing that ever could have happened to me.

For months my mind forced my body to run itself into the ground.

And it took years to repair the damage.

But you will have to wait to hear the rest of the story.

My mom is calling me to dinner.

“An Introduction to Life” by Write on Fight on Scholarship Winner Mary Pilliterri

Mary grew up in the town of Robbinsville, New Jersey. Her cousins have always had a huge impact on her life and helped her greatly in her college decisions. In the fall of 2017, Mary will be attending the University of Delaware where she will major in Biochemistry. In the future she has hopes of becoming an Ophthalmologist in a warm, southern state.

Mary and Marco (and me) at the 2017 Scholarship Award Ceremony at Robbinsville High School

A pigtailed six-year-old girl sits in her cousin’s bedroom watching his pet snake devour a mouse.

She knows not to tap on the glass as she stares intently at the oscillating muscles slowly pulling the mouse farther, deeper into the snake.

Most people don’t like snakes. They don’t like what the blackness of their lidless eyes reflects to them.

The girl wishes she could have arrived in time to observe the snake kill the mouse. How poetic it would have been. She’s a Red-Tailed Boa Constrictor with beautiful sandy coloring and splotches of burnt red diamonds outlined in black down her back and sides.

The young girl’s cousin explains how the snake’s vibrant tail attracts prey. Imagining the serpent basking in the sun of a vast desert, the girl feels sorry for the boa in the tank where she can’t stretch to her full length. It’s in this moment, when the little girl begins to understand why the snake tried to escape the tank so many times.

On previous visits when the snake wasn’t eating, the girl’s cousin would let her hold the heavy rope of an animal under close supervision. Her intense fascination with the creature perplexed him. This fanged-hunter might be domesticated, but the idea that his pigtailed six-year-old cousin wanted to be so close to an animal that constricts its prey until death made her seem strangely mature for her age.

She found beauty in the eloquent contorting of the snake’s movements. The twisted clump from the tank had distinct muscle definition running her length and could easily destroy the little girl if she wanted, however an uncommon trust was developing between the black eyes of the ruthless killer and the soft blue eyes of the girl.

Precise contractions continue to pull the mouse and the snake’s neck expands as her food fills her entirely and the tiny girl twirls her pigtails, watching.

None of the girl’s other family members ever show interest in the snake. They must not like the mystery that swirls in the snake’s deep, black eyes. They must see how much the snake costs and think her a waste.

They do not see the snake’s skin as delicate artwork–proving God exists.

The mouse is gone.

There just remains a slender tail that dangles from the serpent’s mouth and the waving muscles continue their steady motion tugging at her dinner. The small girl with pigtails and blue eyes still watches as her cousin leaves. Her family talks, eats, and deals cards in the other room while music plays and the TV cheers with another goal. The snake is ignorant of human life.

She only knows how to seduce prey, strangle existence.

As the snake closes her mouth around the last inch of her meal, Mary catches a glimpse of her faded reflection in the glass tank. Her eyes appear darker and the pigtail she was twisting has loosened slightly. She doesn’t understand the magnitude of her attraction. The power, the beauty, the life, the violence, the finality, the death–she wants it all.

In the living room, the family sits together, but alone digesting dinner, turning over thoughts of life and death, lacking the courage to say or do anything.

Mary shuts the bedroom door. Turns, and is pulled by the complexities and contradictions that swell beneath the heat lamp above the tank.

Playing School (or why I still want to be a teacher)-Guest Post

Playing School (or why I still want to be a teacher) is guest post written by  Julianne Frascella. Julianne is currently a 12th grade student in my AP Literature class at Robbinsville High School (NJ). She will be attending The College of New Jersey in September 2017.

It was like we were playing school.

Except, this was not supposed to be a game.

Wearing old glasses with the lenses popped out and clacking about in my mom’s oversized black high heels, I asserted myself as the head teacher. A pointer with the white gloved finger at the tip, in hand, I was in charge and my classroom was an orderly hierarchy.

One person played teacher.

In my classroom, I had a diverse array of students, consisting of teddies, American Girl dolls, Barbies, Power Rangers, and my little brother.

Arranged one behind the other in columns of four, my class of twelve “students” arrived each day, sitting neatly with their legs tucked under their makeshift cardboard desks. Strips of construction paper glued to the tops, printed with their first and last names in Sharpie, the letters stretching to reach the dotted lines.

The teacher’s desk (which magically transformed into a coffee table when “school” let out) was shoved in the corner, the swivel sofa behind it imitated the staple teacher’s spinny chair. My Barbie laptop plopped upon it, I clacked my fingers against the keys, typing very professional emails to the principal.

Each day, I’d call attendance, logging checks and x’s in my teacher’s book (a stack of white printer paper with three-staples down the side and grid lines that my mom sketched on for me in black pen did the trick).

The whiteboard, the one my dad reluctantly nailed to the wall, displayed the date in the top right corner and the spotlighted Morning Message, exuded cheerfulness in its rainbow letters.

My expectations of a structured classroom developed from the make- believe school in my playroom at home. However, my anticipations were completely defied as I entered the first grade. For most seven-year olds, their largest source of stress stems from a coloring mishap or their word sorting homework.

First grade was a rough year.

My school day often began with hyperventilating at the bus stop and concluded with a bellyache complaint and a nurse visit.

While I should have been enjoying the thrills of the first grade, I was instead inundated with anxiety- a consequence of my classroom environment, a mere discrepancy of my idealistic imaginary classroom.

Our class recycled through at least three teachers over the course of that year, with random substitutes scattered in between. They varied from apathetic to dictatorial, with few falling in between the extremes. And the majority of which, did not have the competence to organize our collapsed classroom.

They’d fumble through the teacher’s desk at the front of the class, which was cluttered with worksheets, yet to be graded and new copies, strewn throughout. They’d quickly scribble their name on the whiteboard upon their arrival, leaving the board bare and dreary otherwise. The date in the corner never seemed to switch, except when it was half erased and fading off.

It was November 3rd for three weeks.

Each day, I’d peek in my classroom to see who was playing teacher. Who would be squinting at the teacher’s book awkwardly trying to sound out our names for attendance? Who would be hollering to quiet down, overwhelmed by the lack of routine and order?

Where is the attendance book? How long do you usually read for? Where do you keep the markers? What are you learning in science?

Different students would jump to their feet arguing whether math or social studies came first on the schedule and whether we left off on chapter three or thirteen in the class novel.

We had twenty- three teachers leading our class, the better of which seemed to be under the age of 8.

And me, praying for an orderly routine, would tremble in my desk, completely distraught by the disorder I was immersed in.

School wasn’t supposed to be a game of role play, yet it had become just that. Wilting in my chair, amidst the mayhem of the classroom, my love for school along with my idealized vision of a harmonized school environment had been tarnished.

I now understand that being a real teacher will differ from my childhood fantasies. Nevertheless, I aspire to carry my childhood passion for teaching throughout my career.

 Why I Still Want to be a Teacher

  1. Offer a Comfortable Place to Learn

The school environment should offer children a consistent routine and a comfortable atmosphere. There is no need to impose extra anxiety on a child by having unexpected changes and irregularities. I want to ensure that my students feel prepared and excited for school each day, not fearful.

  1. Instill Respect as the Foundation of a Child’s Education

Realistically, students will not need to retain the details of American Revolution or the life cycle of a worm. However, they will need well-founded social skills. Classmates can be as much of a hindrance as they are an asset to a child’s education, hence my desire to develop a socially synchronized community within the classroom.

Teachers have a significant hand in shaping the future of society (that’s a lot of power!). Therefore, one of my greatest values is to impart respect as the primacy of learning to instill it as a foundation of future society.

  1. Cherish the Value of Individuality

It is easy to overlook the individual needs of every student with the overwhelming responsibilities of operating a classroom. The instruction of each child should be tailored to their identity, specifically their mannerisms, behaviors, and learning methods. Different tone, approach, and consequences should apply to every distinct child. I never want a child to feel inferior because a situation was not handled to compliment their personalities and abilities; emphasis on a child’s individuality may hold the key to their greatest growth potential.

  1. Emphasize the Inevitability of Imperfections

Learning is infinite, except when hindered by the trepidation of failure.

Dreading to answer a question and fretting over the repulsive B grade has become the reality of the education system from a student’s perspective. As a teacher, I aspire to break this falsified stereotype of failure and rather highlight the value in making mistakes. In fact, I want my classroom to be a place where mistakes are encouraged and no longer seem a place of consistent performance, but instead a place of constant practice.

Despite, my early experiences in the public school system, I still believe in education.

As I am about to leave high school and embark on my future, I often think of myself as a timorous, little girl sitting in a first grade class. I know there are other girls out there just like me and I feel it is my responsibility to make school no longer a place of fear and chaos, but instead the start of an exciting journey.


The Write on Fight on Essay Contest Winner-Siret Mann

The winner of The Write on Fight on Writing Contest is Siret Mann! 

Siret is an 11th grade student at Robbinsville High School.  Siret’s story was chosen by a panel of judges for its “emotional depth and maturity.”

The writing contest, held on during the December 8th Write-a-Thon, required students to write an original, personal story about one important lesson they learned and how that lesson changed them in some simple or profound way.

Hope you enjoy!

The first time I realized that my mom would die I was in fifth grade.

The details of my dream have blurred, but the feeling of terror it brought hasn’t. I used to share a room with my sister and my parent’s room was across the hall, across the pit of darkness that’s only seen in the middle of the night. I don’t think I’ve ever woken up that quickly. I quite literally bolted upright, feeling the wetness of my eyes and the pounding of my heart with an almost detached confusion.

Turning right, I could just barely see the outline of my sister’s body, sleeping peacefully. I relaxed fractionally, relieved at the fact that my nightmare had been just a figment of my imagination and nothing else. However, my fear hadn’t been for my sister. It had been for my mom.

Reluctantly, I swung my feet of the bed and stood up, senses on high alert for the evils of the dark that every child is afraid of. Inch by inch, I crept across the wide expanse that separated my mom from me, holding my breath and freezing in place every time a floorboard so much as creaked. Finally, I reached her door. I pushed it open and padded forward so I was standing over her head. I have no doubt now that if she had woken up, she would’ve screamed bloody murder, terrifying both of us. As I watched, she took a deep breath and turned over. The pressure in my chest lifted instantly and I mimicked her deep breath.

My mom was alive.

Satisfied, I ventured back to my room and slipped under the covers, a smile on my face.

The next morning, I awoke as usual to the sound of dishes clinking and my mom talking gaily. My throat constricted and I rushed out of my room, tripping over my feet in my haste to get downstairs. Spotting her by the sink, I flung my arms around her waist and refused to let go until she forcibly pried me off. “Well, good morning” she said, eyes crinkled in both amusement and irritation. “What’s gotten into you?”

I took a step back and looked at her solemnly. “I dreamt you’d died.” I said and broke down crying.


Before this point in life, my only interaction with death had been in Harry Potter. Death was something I related to fiction, a thing I’d heard of but could never fathom affecting my own life. After my nightmare I was shocked.

My mom would die someday? I would have to live in a world without her?

We as humans are uncomfortable with the notion of death, the idea that one day we’re here and the next, we might not be. Since we fear death we choose to disconnect from it, seeing it as something that can happen to other people but never to us. Unfortunately, this means that when death does touch us, we’re completely unprepared on how to cope.

We take life for granted, never really appreciating the time we have or the people we share it with.

Sitting upright in bed that night, a cold sweat shivering down my back and tears still falling for a reason I couldn’t remember, I realized death couldn’t be removed from my life. Rather than push it away and refuse to accept its existence, I had to learn how to live with it. So I began to tell my mom I loved her more often, to let my brother pick what we watched on tv, to let my sister have the last cookie.

The thinking behind these actions was simple; who knew how much time any of us had left? Rather than take the people in my life for granted, I started trying to appreciate them, to really feel thankful for them. I told my friends I cared, complemented people in the hallways, and made an effort not to let a quick temper get the best of me.

I’ve tried to carry these efforts out over the years. Every now and then I’ll slack, and then I’ll remember the nightmare. “Mom?” I’ll say. “I love you.” She’ll smile back. “I love you too.” That nightmare hasn’t haunted my dreams since, and I sleep peacefully at night knowing that death is not coming for me.

Not yet.

WoFo’s Featured Writer- Sean Carr

Hey Everyone,

Leading up to next week’s Write-a-Thon I wanted to feature some of my senior student writers. Writers who have worked under my tutelage, endured my awful jokes and were forced to experience my literary pretentiousness.

 So since we are in the throes of Prom season, I’m featuring writer Sean Carr and his piece on the painfully awkward tradition known as Prom. Sean is… you know what, I’ll let Sean do the talking… Enjoy…   

8 Reasons Why Going to Prom with Me Will Be Awkward

Hello! My name is Sean Carr and I believe in miracles. I believe in miracles because–well– I somehow scored a prom date. This fact alone is enough to baffle even the likes of Stephen Hawking, Neil Degrasse Tyson or the brilliantly bowtied Bill Nye.

Seriously, I’m a dork. I’m definitely not the Valedictorian of the class. I’m not the captain of any varsity team. I’ve never been the lead in the school’s musical. I’m just me– too skinny, too tall, and always fresh outta luck.

Exhibit A

The tall, muscled, finely tanned, squared jawed, heart breaking hunks on Teen Wolf bare not even the slightest resemblance of me (See Exhibit A).

Prom season is a difficult time for nerds. The very idea of dressing in a bulky, itchy tuxedo and dancing with… (Gulp)… Girls… sends us scampering to our parent’s basements. Our safe havens where we dilute our social fears wasting hours upon hours playing Call of Duty.

Would I consider missing out on one of the penultimate high school events? One that has been mythologized by Hollywood as the most memorable night of your life?

Hell no!

In fact, I refuse to spend another night playing video games. I may be a nerd but I’m going to Prom damnit! And I’m going with a date. And it’s going to be especially awkward for the both of us.

So before we start fumbling over boutineers and forcing smiles I want to warn my date why going to prom, with a nerd like me, may be the most awkward night of your life…

1.I Have No Sense of Style

A sweatshirt, some track pants, and red converse sneakers. That’s my go to outfit. I actually own nothing else other than those three articles of clothing. Maybe once and a while I’ll wear some jeans to look formal but I tend to stay casual about it 99% of the time. Even though formal attire is supposed to make you look sharp and debonair, I still find a way to look absolutely hideous. My fragile frame makes sure everything is either too tight or too loose. There is no in between.

2.I’m Not Arm Candy

As I mentioned before, I don’t know how to look good and dress up for such an occasion like Prom. I look like a flag pole draped in a suit coat.

3.I’m Too Tall For Photos

I can assure you that in every picture the top of my head will be cut off. A step stool or a ladder (that matches your shoes of course) may be required.

4.I’ll Most Likely Forget To Pick You Up

Don’t take it personally but I’m just forgetful. I forget my keys, wallet and phone all the time, so there’s a good chance I may forget about Prom altogether.  You may want to have a Plan B.

5.I Can’t Afford To Buy Two Prom Tickets

I do have a job however, I make under minimum wage where I work because I “get tipped” for my services. Once I do get tipped, I’ll end up buying myself a full course meal from Taco Bell that same day. Then *poof* just like, that I’m broke again.

6.I’m Constantly Eating

Fries before guys am I right ladies? In fact, there is never a time when I’m not starving. In fact, I’m actually eating right now as I type this article. My current setup? Bowls of popcorn surround my laptop and I have to push Chocolate Hersey’s Kiss wrappers aside to reach the “O” key.

7.I Can’t Dance At All

I honestly cannot dance. If you’re looking for someone with the smoothest of slides, the most suave of steps, or the grooviest hips, then you better find a new dance partner. I’ll be spending my time in the bathroom searching YouTube for videos on “how to impress your crush on the dance floor” all evening.


8. I Have the Attention Span of a Puppy

Prom will be like a real life “Where’s Waldo” game. A game that you will never win. With so many cool things to see–the bouncing strobe lights, the buffet tables, heck, even the fancy little mints in the bathroom will be wildly distracting.With so many things to see in so little time, you may think about getting me a leash.

Fortunately for me, my date just so happens to be my best friend.

We’ve braved high school together and Prom is another check on the list of teenage calamities we have endured together.

sean2And hey, if things get too awkward we can call a cab, retreat to my parent’s basement, arm ourselves with digital machine guns and play Call of Duty until our eyes glaze over and we pass out.