The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

    Sticky situation

    By Elana Zeltser

    During second period on any given day, Avalon Nuovo ’13 reaches into her bag and pulls out a pack of gum. She unwraps what will be the first of the four to five pieces she will chew before the end of school. She then tries to put it back in her bag as quickly as possible before the person sitting next to her notices she has what Nuovo refers to as “gold for Harvard-Westlake students.”

    According to, Nuovo’s gum “addiction” may, in fact, boost her academic potential. A study at the Baylor College of Medicine using 108 students proved that chewing gum while taking standardized tests and in class actually improves scores. The study also concluded that students pay better attention and need fewer breaks if they are chewing gum.

    “I really find it helps me concentrate in class,” Nuovo said. “I like to be moving at all times, so without it, I feel restless.”

    Both Nuovo and Mirand van Iderstine ‘13 said gum curbs their hunger, so they aren’t distracted by food cravings during class. A study done at Louisiana State University verified that gum can momentarily satiate hunger.

    Unfortunately for the students who have a reliance on either the taste or the repetitive movement of chewing gum, there are teachers who simply will not allow it.

    Abby Sandler ’13 said the dance teachers are adamant about their no-gum-policy, as there is a serious danger of choking.

    It is simply an old wives’ tale that gum stays in your stomach for years after you swallow it, but because of its tough consistency there is a greater likelihood that it could get stuck in the trachea.

    For other teachers, however, rules regarding gum are simply a matter of showing respect and maintaining the integrity of a serious learning environment.

    “If you want to chew gum for 23 hours and 15 minutes out of the day, be my guest, but for 45 minutes a day in my class, you won’t,” history teacher Ken Neisser said. “It’s good for you to know that you can get through that time without it. It is a place of learning. That is what we are here for and I want to focus on that.”

    Last year, a student walked into Neisser’s class commenting that one of the top generals in the army was chomping on gum while giving a press conference.

    “Looked pretty smart didn’t he?” Neisser said sarcastically. “I find it very difficult to look intelligent when you are chewing gum.”

    For Neisser, gum chewing is something he associates with a casual situation. He, along with fellow history teacher Eric Zwemer, have found that it can be a serious distraction from their lectures.

    “[Gum] is another thing to fiddle with, to take out, to open and ultimately distract,” Neisser said. “It is as inherently fascinating as I wish history would be for all my students.”

    Even students who claim to reap the benefits of gum chewing in class can, at times, find it extremely disruptive.

    “I find it obnoxious when people chew gum like cows and are unaware of how much noise they are making, but if they are discreet about it, then I think it’s fine,” Solange Etessami ’13 said.

    Still, the majority of students are accustomed to seeing a room full of moving mouths and often do not understand why teachers quibble with it. Josh Swanson ’13 attributed the difference in opinion to the customs that were ingrained in teachers when they were teenagers.

    “I don’t find it rude, but I think it was considered disrespectful when they were in school and they are passing that on,” Swanson said.

    Spanish teacher Margot Riemer, along with much of the language department, does not allow gum chewing because it negatively affects speech ability. However, she also verified Swanson’s suspicion that much of it is simply custom.

    “It is about pronunciation, but also it is just historical for me,” Riemer said. “None of my language teachers ever permitted gum-chewing in class, and I am carrying on their tradition.”

    Still, despite the dispute over whether gum chewing is acceptable, teachers such as Neisser, Riemer and Zwemer do not think it should be banned from the school.

    “I think it is good for students to have different experiences,” Neisser said. “If there are teachers who aren’t bothered by it, then more power to them.”

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