Our society understood schools as a neutral space, independent of our homes and our workplaces. It took the COVID-19 pandemic to shift the mainstream perception of schooling to something indelibly connected to our communities and lives.
As we grapple with the virus, we hear educators, parents and community leaders weigh in on the million-dollar question: how do we make education the best it can be in a world where learning is more connected to the environment around us than ever before? The voices of students, those directly experiencing this rapidly changing education system, are often represented by proxy.
Student Voice launched its Journalism Fellowship in 2018 to address this absence, a mission as pertinent now as it was then. In the first cohort of our fellowship, fourteen students explored their education through the lens of the Student Bill of Rights. In the second, eighteen students weighed the impact of their communities in shaping a diverse range of student experiences.
We were astounded by the stories they shared, from the failings of sex education to struggles for school integration to the inaccessibility of post-secondary education. These fellows illuminated the experiences of students in conversations often rooted in cold statistics and professional testimonies.
This 2020–2021 school year, we are proud to introduce the third cohort of Journalism Fellows. These twenty-three students are the products of public schools in fourteen different states, representing communities as differing as urban California and rural Montana. Our fellows will lay bare the inequities in our education system, elevate the voices of those most impacted by them, and weigh the impacts COVID-19 has on transforming education to be more equitable and accessible.
They will unearth the realities of education and turn to the Student Bill of Rights and Move School Forward Principles to ask what education is — and ought to be — in the wake of the pandemic. We hope you’ll join us in exploring these questions.
Ayana Smith and Gabriella Staykova
Student Voice Storytelling Programs Coordinators
Rahmat Adelakun | Providence, Rhode Island | Classical High School
Rahmat is a sophomore working to shine a light on systemic racism. She is passionate about gender equality, body positivity and healthy mindsets. She is a lover of Christ and a daughter of Zion who enjoys singing, acting, dancing and fashion.
Opal Besaw | Kalispell, Montana | Glacier High School
Opal Besaw is a junior from Kalispell, Montana. She has cerebral palsy and is passionate about disability advocacy. She believes that people should be able to easily access every part of their town no matter their physical circumstances. Opal would like to learn more about the stigma surrounding mental health, which is particularly prevalent in Montana. When she is not advocating, Opal enjoys reading and writing fiction, collecting handmade teddy bears and listening to Taylor Swift.
Anvi Bhagavatula | Yorba Linda, California | Yorba Linda High School
Anvi Bhagavatula is a freshman from Yorba Linda High School in California. She’s passionate about ending cultural appropriation and adding more realistic minority representation in entertainment. Anvi also works on increasing equity through the free coding classes and hygiene product donations she leads.
Ali Caudle | Missoula, Montana | Hellgate High School
Ali discovered the power of journalism through work in her community. As co-editor of her school paper, she encourages students to read the news by prioritizing a strong digital presence. She’s passionate about politics and civic engagement and founded a project to interview candidates for local office on the issues youth care about. She’s also a leader on and off the field, as captain of her school’s JV soccer team and a member of the varsity swim team. When she’s not advocating for social justice or writing to amplify silenced voices, you can find her baking or dancing to Taylor Swift songs.
Cindy Chen | Caldwell, New Jersey | James Caldwell High School
Cindy Chen is a junior from Caldwell, New Jersey. She used to have her heart set on entering the medical field, but a racist incident in her high school pushed her towards storytelling. Since writing about what she witnessed in the cafeteria for her school newspaper, Cindy had become increasingly passionate about journalism. Although she is a fledgling writer, she brings her enthusiasm for learning and passion for creating social change.
Cody Chou | Houston, Texas | Spring Early College Academy
Cody Chou is a senior from Houston, Texas. He is an advocate for better access to education for all students. Growing up in a low-income district, he saw how poor budgeting and the lack of student voice can have detrimental effects on the communities it serves. He has started various student initiatives to improve STEM education in elementary and middle schools. Cody looks forward to improving his writing skills to shed light on the issues that face the district.
Mia DiLorenzo | Minneapolis, Minnesota | Edina High School
Mia DiLorenzo is a junior from the Twin Cities area in Minnesota. With experience in both the writing and organizing spheres, she is curious about the intersection between storytelling and community organizing, especially as it relates to justice and equity. Mia is intrigued and inspired by revolutionary activists and creatives who paved the way for radical change and hopes to continue learning about international social movements. When she isn’t working with Student Voice, she can be found organizing with the Minnesota Youth Climate Strike, interning with her local representatives, or writing for her school’s newspaper.
Martine Dosa | Syracuse, New York | Nottingham High School
Martine Dosa is a student organizer from Syracuse, NY. She is a passionate advocate for using social-emotional learning, decolonized curriculum and civic engagement to transform the k12 classroom. In the education justice space, Martine’s work is grounded in dialogue and restorative practices. Much of the dialogue experiences that Martine has is with the Seeds of Peace organization, with which she is an active member and trained facilitator. She believes that dialogue plays a critical role in the common thread of radical human connection. Martine is also very interested in public policy and is curious about blending the fields of policy and education justice.
Gabriella Gonzáles | Farmington, New Mexico | Piedra Vista High School
Gabriella Gonzáles is a high school student and political activist from New Mexico. Gabbie is incredibly passionate about the pursuit of increasing political engagement and civil discourse among historically disenfranchised youth at both the state and national levels. She hopes to push the cultural needle forward by cultivating the perspective of young people stepping to the forefront of the modern political movement. Beyond her involvement at Student Voice, she is also an ACLU National Advocacy Institute student, American Battlefield Trust Youth Leadership Team member, and Blue Future Fellow.
Annika Halvorson | Pelham, New York | Pelham Memorial High School
Annika Halvorson is a freshman from Pelham, NY. She is extremely passionate about bringing to light the horrors that women face around the world, as well as fighting against climate change and racial inequity. She believes that storytelling through writing is an incredibly powerful tool, which can be used to induce change and open the minds of others. She is a member of her school’s student council, a player on her volleyball team and a participant in the French club. When she is not doing schoolwork or writing, she can be found in her room watching anime or hanging out with friends.
Kiyah Harris | Houston, Texas | High School for Law and Justice
Kiyah Harris is a junior at the High School for Law and Justice whose fascination with politics and philosophy is never-ending. She believes that every individual is deserving of inalienable rights and hopes to live in a world where this is such. She’s an active community member, volunteering for local shelters and progressive political campaigns. As a Houston youth, she hopes to inspire other teens within her community to become more involved in the political realm. She wants to use her ambition and drive to help teens find their own passions through written and verbal expression and civic engagement.
Ore James-Ayan | Tomball, Texas | Tomball Memorial High School
Ore James-Ayan is a student fascinated by the role of creative storytelling and digital media in social change. As an editor of her school paper, she edits features, researches for digital magazines and works to improve digital storytelling. She was named an All-State Journalist and her writing has been recognized by the New York Times, TAJE, and Scholastic Art and Writing. She currently develops a curriculum in wellness education and produces podcast episodes on neurodivergence. If she’s not finishing a new ebook, you can usually find her curating new playlists or giving out movie recommendations.
Vignesh Karthik | Hattiesburg, Mississippi | Oak Grove High School
Vignesh Karthik is a junior at Oak Grove High School in Hattiesburg, MS with a passion for debating and public speaking. He believes no belief is set in stone and continues to refine his ideals by challenging the ideas of others. He has witnessed the deep-rooted racism and biases within the public education and court systems in Mississippi, as well as the staggering gap between the rungs on the socioeconomic ladder. His goal is to bridge the gap between those in poverty and the elites through written policy and social empathy. When not writing for Student Voice, he spends his time competing nationally in speech and debate and developing apps and websites.
Jeongin Kim | Timonium, Maryland | Dulaney High School
Jeongin Kim is a high school radical intrigued by anything political. Fighting for class equity and against neoliberalism, she demands corporate transparency, universal healthcare, and accessible education. She believes that exposure is the best way to create empathy and, therefore, spends her time writing to uncover beauty in the mundane. Similarly, she loves slice-of-life films and mumblecore — stories that celebrate the ordinary.
Joyce Kim | Los Angeles, California | La Canada High School
Joyce Kim is a junior from La Canada, California. An avid reader and writer for most of her life, she’s always found both solace and empowerment in the act of creating and sharing her work. She grew up in a small, privileged town and observed the disparities between different groups, which pushed her to uplift the overlooked voices within her community through storytelling. When she’s not absorbed in literature or furiously typing away on her computer, she can be found drawing, trying to teach herself a new language, taking strolls around her neighborhood or chatting away with friends and family.
Lena McEachern | Carlsbad, California | Carlsbad High School
Lena McEachern is a high school senior from San Diego, CA. She loves getting the opportunity to shed light on underrepresented voices and perspectives through journalism. When she’s not writing, she enjoys baking, bike-riding, and watching films.
Nyasha Given Musoni | Lexington, Kentucky | Paul Laurence Dunbar High School
Nyasha Musoni is a high school senior in Lexington, Kentucky with a passion for communication and storytelling. Through written and spoken word, she seeks to communicate her own lived experiences and those of others not often heard from. As a student, she has an interest in equitable access to educational resources and a truthful school curriculum. She has published pieces in her local paper and is active also in public speaking. She regularly produces content for the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team’s podcast and blog and her local academy newsletter, The Element, in addition to freelance work. In her free time, she likes to garden.
Ndidi Opara | Carnation, Washington | Lake Washington High School
Born in California, raised in Arizona, Ndidi is now a Washington State resident. Her passions include community organizing, research and journalism, which she believes all intersect. Outside of that, she loves art, fashion and learning in general. But more than anything, she loves music of all kinds.
Emmanuela Sepetia | Bronx, New York | The Brooklyn Latin School
Emmanuela is a high school junior born and raised in New York. She has seen first hand how challenging the city’s education system can be to navigate, as well as how inequitable the system is for the majority of its students. Emmanuela works with the non-profit youth-led organization Teens Take Charge to create equity and individualized education. Emmanuela has always had a love for writing and believes that there is truly something special about written works. During her free time, you can find her at a Barnes & Noble trying to find her next read or listening to music during a walk on a local pathway.
Ria Srivastava | Folsom, California | Vista del Lago High School
Ria Srivastava is a sophomore and student organizer. Passionate about radical politics, she loves learning from revolutionaries and changemakers — anything and everything related to challenging the system in hopes of a better world.
Purnata Subah | Brooksville, Florida | F. W. Springstead High School
Purnata Subah is an IB junior at F.W Springstead High School in Spring Hill, Florida. She is a 16-year-old Bengali American. She is extremely passionate about her community and being involved in it as much as possible. Purnata is currently the vice president of the iEmpower Club in her city, using her leadership position to educate and support fellow teens in her community.
Derinique Williams | Chicago, Illinois | Whitney M. Young Magnet High School
Derinique Williams is a senior from Chicago, Illinois. Growing up in such a segregated city ignited her passion for equity and inclusion, and she hopes to shed light on the vast discrepancies in the Chicago experience. She is a published writer in her school’s newspaper and is a firm believer in the power of journalism in facilitating change. She is also a member of her school’s yearbook club, a mentor at her local elementary school, and an advocate for women’s issues. Outside of school, she can be found meditating, reading, listening to music or watching Netflix.
Brandon Yam | Flushing, New York | Francis Lewis High School
Brandon Yam is part of one of two sets of triplets in his family who is a senior at Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows, Queens, NY. Since joining his school news site in 2018, he has reported on issues ranging from homelessness to climate change in the NYC public school system, the largest but most segregated in the country. His work has appeared in The 74, Miseducation Podcast and City Limits and been recognized by NPR, The New York Times and Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. When not watching young adult films, listening to linguistics podcasts and drinking passion fruit green tea, Yam is reading about, writing about and talking to strangers about policy to be an education reporter in the future.