An Interview with a Diabetic

by Holly Penta

In honor of National Diabetes Awareness Month I interviewed Mary Claire Davis, a survivor of Type 1 Diabetes and one of my best friends. The first thing Mary Claire said when I began the interview was “it was November 30th, 2016”, the date stuck in her mind. She was 16 years old, just got her license, and had to spend 4 days in the New Orleans Children’s Hospital where she was described as “the healthiest Type 1 Diabetic they’d admitted.” Health didn’t matter, Type 1 does not discriminate.

Mary Claire remembers being little and playing with her dad’s glucometer, pretending to poke needles into her fingers and check her blood sugar. She didn’t know that by the time she was 16 she’d be checking her sugar before going anywhere.

Like many (if not most) people, I had a very limited understanding of what exactly Type 1 Diabetes is. I was almost embarrassed to ask, I’ve known Mary Claire since we were 5 or 6, known she had diabetes for 2 years and still never bothered to look it up. As Mary Claire explained, a bad case of the flu is what started her diabetes. It’s an autoimmune disease, so when she got sick her body focused too hard on fighting the virus and ended up attacking itself. The pancreas started to dilate and stopped producing insulin. It stopped processing food and fluid, which caused Mary Claire to lose weight, no matter how much she ate. She was constantly hungry, thirsty, tired, and always needing to pee. She started losing focus, feeling “fogginess in the brain”, and her breath smelled sweet. The symptoms of a low can be extreme, including shaking, nausea, dizziness, confusion, weakness of limbs, exhaustion, and even fainting. Sometimes it’s accompanied by a mood shift, causing my usually happy friend to become irritable, stubborn, and sometimes a little aggressive. High blood sugar can be bad too, she has to live chasing the perfect balance.

Diabetes is “literally a constant battle”, there is a constant fear of the consequences of it, if she forgets to check her blood sugar just once it could lead to low blood sugar seizures or even death, and prolonged neglect of the disease could lead to the loss of a limb or the loss of eyesight. Every night she is scared she might not wake up.

Most people our age don’t have to worry about this. I know I don’t. I asked how it’s changed her outlook on life, honestly expecting it to have had a negative impact. But just the opposite, she says she appreciates the little things more and always knows that “it could be worse”. She said she’s thankful for friends and family who try to understand what having diabetes really entails and to those who provide low carb and low sugar foods at parties and events they know she’s attending. “Just ask” she says. If there is something you’re curious about she’d rather you ask than make assumptions, she won’t be offended, and she “actually loves talking about it”.

I imagined it would be somewhat like a diet in the sense that it would be hard to sit with people while they ate sugary or high carb foods. But she says it's not too hard since she can eat most things in moderation with the right amount of insulin. She does, however, get annoyed when people complain about not being able to eat as much as they’d like for trivial reasons, like fad diets, or tell her to “just forget” about her diabetes for the night. It’s unforgettable. Pointing out that she wouldn’t be able to eat something doesn’t help either, she’s well aware of what is and what’s not good for her.

Being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes means being diagnosed with the stereotypes and misconceptions as well. Mary Claire says she’s found that people seem to think that Type 1 is caused by eating too much sugar or being overweight. People have told her that it’s not a big deal, or to “eat cinnamon to revive” her pancreas. She said she wishes people would understand that her pancreas is gone, “it’s dead and never coming back”. That’s one of the major differences between Type 1 and Type 2, Type 1 is forever.

Since November 30th, 2016 there has been a “weight, always nagging” on her mind. Even in class, people see her looking at her pump and glare, when trying to get into a university football game, a security guard argued with her about bringing food into the stadium. At a Sonic Drive Thru a waitress gave her a Sprite instead of a water, being too lazy to repour the drink, not realizing that one soda has just about as many carbs as a burger. The waitress meant no harm, probably just thinking that her customer would be grateful for a free soda, not even considering the potential consequences.

It’s a daily struggle, checking her sugar by finger prick at least 5 times a day, if her pump site gets knocked out of place she sometimes has to miss class to insert a new one. Each test strip costs $1 and without insurance her pump and sensor would be $10,000-$20,000, and her overall care would be over $35,000 a year, not to mention the doctor's appointments, getting bloodwork done every 3 months,  and all the worrying it causes. It all adds up fast to take a big toll physically, emotionally, and financially.

With this in mind, I asked Mary Claire the best way to help. I’m no doctor, I have no way to find a cure, so charity and raising awareness is the best option for me. Her favorite charity is Beyond Type 1 (, a foundation started by Nick Jonas, another survivor of Type 1 Diabetes. The charity publishes blogs to raise awareness and help diabetics cope, and raises money to help people get the supplies they need and for research. 100% of their donations go directly to funding these things. Please share and donate if  you can. Every dollar can help someone just like Mary Claire.

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An Interview with St. Tammany School Board Candidate Lisa Page

by Holly Penta

I spoke to St. Tammany Parish School Board Representative Candidate Lisa Page on the phone to interview her. This is a summary of our conversation.

I asked what role she thinks art should play in students’ lives. She focused on early education, saying that art plays a critical role in kids’ education, that scientific research shows that early exposure to the arts stimulates the brain. She noted that even though the Singing Bees chorus starts in  2nd grade at Honey Island Elementary and violin lessons start in kindergarten, it’s not enough. She said that although “obviously there can’t be a full marching band in kindergarten” that she’d like to see more instruments offered as well as some plays put on by the little kids. She also stressed that later in life it’s important to make sure students know that there are scholarships for the arts, even if the amounts are lower than those for sports, anything will help.

Mrs. Page thinks that uniforms are good, that they even the playing field for students from different socioeconomic background. It helps to create routine for younger students, making it easier for the parents and the kids in the morning. She says that though there is no evidence that uniforms directly affect the safety of the students, but she does think it helps indirectly. It limits the amount of conflicts amongst the students themselves. For example, if a student wears an inappropriate shirt, it could cause behavioral issues that could have easily been avoided by enforcing a uniform policy.

As far as safety and security goes Mrs. Page says that conversation is key. She thinks that it all starts at home with parents monitoring their children’s social media and texting. As kids grow up everyone makes mistakes. The issues could be stopped there, with discipline from the parents, before schools and law enforcement have to get involved. She noted that all the recent security issues in St. Tammany Parish have been started on social media.

Mrs. Page attended a 4 year university, but also worked at a community college so she understands the benefits of both. She says that increasing students’ knowledge of trade school and apprenticeships in technical trade start with communication.  Someone would need to reach out to community colleges and local carpenters and plumbers to see where they got their education. Reporting this information back to the high schools would allow students to see that this is a viable option too.

What excites her the most about the potential of getting elected to STPSB is getting to help and represent her constituents, to make sure they all have the same positive experience with St. Tammany Parish Schools that she had.

An Interview with St. Tammany Parish School Board Candidate Robert Broome

by Holly Penta

Right now, a lot of the public’s focus is on the Midterm Election. Congress, the House, it’s all incredibly important, but people seem to be overlooking the race for school board representative. In St. Tammany Parish, Selah’s home, there are three candidates running for office. There is a plethora of yard signs and Facebook posts, but very little information about the candidates’ platform. I’ve asked all three candidates to answer a few short questions and will post their responses if/when they become available. I’m not here to take sides or to endorse any specific person, just to get the information out there and to encourage people to VOTE.

This race, though seemingly small, is incredibly important. So much of a person’s views, ideas, and knowledge comes from their childhood and so much of childhood is spent inside the classroom. Though the kids may rarely, if ever, meet their representatives, their decision affect the daily lives of all the students in the parish. These students, with the exception of a few high school students, cannot vote, so it’s up to us to make the best decision for them. The best vote is always educated.


An Interview with St. Tammany Parish School Board Candidate Robert Broome

1. What role would you like the arts to play in children’s education? I know there is not always funding for art and music classes, but through Selah Youth I see that the interest and excitement is still there. Is there anyway you can think of to increase the kids’ exposure to the arts? How can the arts and sports coexist?

Arts in our schools play an important role in every student’s education. For some talented students, the opportunity to receive specialized education in specific kinds of art such as music, fine arts, or theater, is a tremendous benefit to the student and their families. Our existing talented art programs deserve our support and I will continue to support those programs. Arts education is a valuable part of a complete education for ALL our students. Every student deserves exposure to and an understanding of the arts. It is part of a well-rounded education for every student and I support that idea.

2. What is your opinion on school uniforms? Some schools in St. Tammany require them while others do not. Do you think they promote safety and minimize differences, and therefore distractions, among students or do they limit individuality?

I was instrumental in the original adoption of the current school uniform policy in St. Tammany. When I first heard about the idea I was skeptical, but researching the pros and cons of uniforms in schools convinced me that the idea should be an option for our schools. I participated in and for some of the time headed up the parent committee that lobbied the school board and the administration to give it a try here. I fully support the idea that the decision about uniforms should be decided with a vote of the parents at each school. I well remember talking to then Superintendent Monteleone about the policy. When we had secured the votes on the board, he decided to support the idea because we had included a school vote to implement the policy at each school. He was convinced that none of the schools would agree to uniforms and so it didn’t hurt to support the idea. When uniforms passed on the first try in the overwhelming number of our schools, he was the first to say what a great idea it was. I agree it limits the student’s individuality. That is a cost. Yes, the kids can’t express themselves as much as they like and I am sorry for that. But that is a price worth paying considering all the positive things that come from uniforms. Just ask any parent, teacher, or school administrator. I don’t agree that it is a significant contributor to safety in the school-that was not an original reason to support uniforms. A good reason for uniforms is it reduces the cost of schooling to the parent. For those parents who need help providing uniforms for their children, the schools all have formal or informal assistance available. The purpose of uniforms is to simplify the student environment and allow them to concentrate on education. For this purpose, it works. On free dress day, the kids are more distracted and their behavior suffers. The school principals love uniforms. So much that recently the administration tried to force uniforms on to every school in the parish. This violated the original plan and I am glad that the board saw fit to own up to their mistake and leave the decision in the hands of the parents of each school currently without uniforms-as it should be. Our current policy works and I support it-I helped write it.

3. Through the grapevine I’ve heard that local schools have been experiencing some minor threats. How do you propose we best protect our children? How will you keep the parents informed without causing a panic?

Every school receives threats and there are rumors in every school about dangerous things. Every school has a well-organized procedure to handle such rumors and reports. In today’s climate there is simply no longer any such thing as a minor threat. All reports are investigated and when the source is identified the police take action. There is always room for improvement, but unfortunately the schools and the school district get lots of practice. In the current climate threats in school are always taken quite seriously and law enforcement does not cut anyone any slack. They can’t and won’t. It is no longer ever considered a joke or a prank-it is a serious crime and students are arrested for threats that in the past might have been handled informally. Students need to realize that times have changed. The consequences won’t be a trip to the principal’s office; they may well end up in jail charged with felonies. And that has happened even to students in lower grades.

Keeping the parents informed is a very difficult matter. Unfortunately, when threats are made it is no longer a school matter. Law enforcement is in charge and they are dealing with the issue. They have legal considerations limiting what information they can provide. Informing the parents is important, but the school administration has little control over the matter. When any information becomes publicly available, then that information must be immediately shared with the parents-through the school. The rumor mill or social media is rarely a good way to get the truth out. I support transparency and immediate communication while working with law enforcement.

4. St. Tammany Parish frequently boast high levels of college acceptance, but there is always room for improvement. How will you increase students’ interest in college from an early age? Also, do you think trade school or apprenticeships should be more stressed as they can be a much better option for some students?

This is a critical issue for our schools. The focus and purpose of school is to give students a well-rounded education so that every student can clearly see and understand the options available to them. We have work ahead of us to achieve this. Our schools all try to provide a variety of educational options to our students. For example, Northshore HS has one of the largest agriculture programs in the entire state, but there is no denying that our schools are focused on the college track. And for many of our students that is appropriate. But all our schools must do better at teaching our students that the future is in the hands of the student and their parents-not with the guidance counselor or with rules handed down by BESE. Each student needs to be provided with the self-confidence and knowledge necessary to make the right choice for themselves. And when those choices are made, the schools in all grades need to have opportunities available for every student, including trade schools and apprenticeships when appropriate.

5. What are you most excited to accomplish if/when you get elected to the St. Tammany Parish School Board?

I am most excited about learning how to assist our school system in becoming the best in the state and one of the best in the country. I have served on the board before. I know the challenges a new board member faces-both from the demands of concerned parents and the attention a board member receives from the administration. Both are powerful forces that every board member must learn to handle. We are elected to represent our constituents to the administration, not to represent the administration to our constituents. That is a challenging lesson for anyone elected to this position. I am excited at the opportunity to hit the ground running and immediately go to work to provide our residents with the highest quality educational system possible. I know we can do it-we have done it before. The challenges from the state level are significant, but a sophisticated and knowledgeable board and administration can deal with the challenges and provide a high quality school system. That excites me!

Football in the South: An Introduction

by Sarah Rolinski

I grew up in a football family.

Every Sunday, we’d go to church, get fried chicken at Winn-Dixie, run home and get our Saints jerseys on, and run to our friend’s house all before that noon kickoff. I don’t have any brothers, and the closest my sister and I came to participating in sports was soccer in the fourth grade. But football was part of our family; my mom had a bobble head of Lance Moore sitting under the TV after the Saints won the Super Bowl. My mom is notorious for screeching at the TV and jumping out of her seat every time a running back couldn’t complete a touchdown. Halftime meant finally grabbing some baked beans and a hamburger and salad from the Marchese’s small kitchen. It meant impatiently waiting as Pastor Bailey ran over time with his sermon and listening to WWL in the car to see if Garrett Hartley finished the field goal. It meant only wearing certain shirts during the game, getting upset during the NFL draft when our team didn’t get a good player, and knowing that the number 9 on any jersey around here meant Drew and only Drew.

Most importantly, we are a Saints family. Sitting in the nosebleeds during pre-season family. Black and gold wreaths on the front door, each of us owning a stack of New Orleans Saints Champions 2009 family, supporting Jimmy John’s because Drew Brees did kind of family. Fleur-de-lis all over the house, cheering when Sir Saint makes an appearance at a game. Shooting off fireworks in the driveway after that winning field goal against the Vikings when we were found out we were going to the Super Bowl family; sitting quietly while my mother talked about how people wore paper bags on their heads with the word “Aint’s” in big letters before Drew came on board. We are a family that gets in bad moods when our defense can’t perform; we are a family that jokes about the way Sean Payton stands with his lips pursued and say “Juicy Fruit”. We look at players that moved from the Saints and stick out our tongues on our screens and say they should’ve stayed. The biggest day in the fall is not Thanksgiving to us, it is the day we play the Dirty Birds. More recently, my mother has grown to despise the Panthers just as much. We are a family in which the New Orleans Saints is ingrained into our daily lives.

But why?

I attended a high school for the arts, and though I wouldn’t trade that experience to go to a high school of normal proportions, I missed out on a lot of things. I missed out on dances in a school gym, different types of clubs like 4-H or debate club or Builder’s Club. I didn’t get to do AP classes or do model UN, and I wasn’t able to partake in any student council. And most importantly today, I never went to a high school football game.

This doesn’t necessarily sadden me; a lot of people I went to school with would rather listen to Mozart and paint than go to a football game. It just wasn’t ingrained in our DNA as artists. But I realized after I graduated that football in the south, especially in Southeast Louisiana, means a lot to families. Football are some young men’s entire lives; they practice after school, lift weights, memorize plays, and play nearly every Friday night. They do not rest. The families cannot go to functions on certain days of the week; they may have to pick up their sons from practice, go to every game, and travel with the team to away games.

Some teams around here are very good; some are not. The statistics and odds of a team winning can be predicted by local newspapers and the television station based off the way the coaches have conditioned their teams. Some teams surprise us; some teams never do.

But I have found that the idea and immense spirit around high school football around here is a phenomenon. It is fascinating to see lines out to the highway in Mandeville, Louisiana for a team with a losing record and losing streak and people still scream with red and black paint all over their faces and legs. The ticket cash boxes are full of cash, to where it can hold no more. The concession lines take 30 minutes to get a small snack with snowball stands and other booths fundraising for other organizations within the school. The girls wear their hair in pigtails or ponytails, put white, red, and black paint all over their bodies and around their eyes and they match their outfits with the school colors. They scream for the team, and you can hear a collective sigh when they don’t perform. A lineup of coaches stand behind and in front of the benches and the boys sit on the benches drenching themselves in water, huffing and puffing, and before they can catch their breath, coach throws them back in. It is truly an inconceivable amount of hysteria for a sport a limited amount of people can perform.

So why, in southeast Louisiana, do we find ourselves in the throws of this mass hysteria for football?

Quite simply, I do not know. I will be exploring these ideas as well as rooting these teams in their hometowns. I will take a look at the way that football is treated in this portion of the state at high school level, and I will report on the way that these teams are treated throughout the rest of the season.

I hope you will follow along with me as I try to parse the pieces of this enigma in front of me. And I hope you will enjoy reading as much as I enjoy researching.