Top 15 stories by and for teens you may have missed in 2021

December 30, 2021

From a dramatic presidential inauguration to the 20th anniversary of 9/11 to a rocky return to in-person learning amid an ongoing pandemic, here are SRL’s TOP 15 STORIES from 2021:

1. High school students share their hopes for the Biden administration

How does this historic inauguration look to young people? SRL reached out to our network of student journalists to find out what they hope the new administration accomplishes. Here they are in their own words.

2. How students are fighting Zoom fatigue

Stuck working from home, millions of Americans are suffering from exhaustion caused by endless video meetings — commonly known as Zoom Fatigue. SRL Fellow John Barnes of H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program in Arlington, Virginia spoke to experts about the phenomenon, and had his friends try out some techniques to reduce burnout from a constant digital presence.

3. On Our Minds Ep. 1: It’s OK not to be OK

On Our Minds hosts Noah and Zion explore the stigma around mental health and share personal stories about social anxiety and combating panic attacks from teens in Michigan and Texas. This episode includes actress Asia Jackson describing how she copes with anxiety and depression and features tips from adolescent health physician Dr. Hina Talib on how to stay proactive when it comes to your mental health.  Listen to episodes from the full first season of On Our Minds.

4. Student activists help divert millions in funding away from law enforcement in schools

The role of police officers in schools has come under increasing scrutiny, as communities across the U.S. respond to calls for racial justice and re-evaluate student safety. In Los Angeles, student activists played a major role in getting the school district to move away from funding police in schools. SRL’s Julia Escobar has the story.

5. What is the American Rescue Plan and how will it make schools better after the pandemic?

Gracie Napuapomaikaikuikalealoha Farias from Kapolei High School on Oahu, Hawaii walks viewers through what’s in the new sweeping federal law called the American Rescue Plan, which passed the U.S. Congress in early 2021. Aimed at fixing what was broken in schools, a lot of the plan’s funding is set aside so that school boards for the nation’s 16,000 school districts can use it to improve things like air ventilation systems and addressing students who have been left behind academically.

6. Siblings pick up slack at home forced by the pandemic

One of the unexpected ways the pandemic impacted students was the new responsibilities that landed on the shoulders of young people–including caring for younger siblings. To watch the full one-hour special ‘Disrupted: How Covid-19 Changed Education,’ click here.

7. ‘We are with you:’ Cuban protests find youth allies in Little Havana, Miami

Thousands of Cubans took to the streets to protest the failing economy, food shortages and growing number of COVID-19 cases on the island. Fueled by social media, the protests also gained support and solidarity in Miami’s Little Havana, where young people have also taken to the streets. Student Reporting Labs’s Delta Flores, a Gwen Ifill fellow, reports.

8. How families can support transgender and nonbinary teens

As teens develop into adults, the path of self discovery looks different for everyone. Wednesday Gomez, a ninth grade student from Austin, Texas, identifies as non-binary, a recent discovery in their path to adulthood. Wednesday uses a new name and pronouns to express their identity. They talk about their path to transition and how it has affected their current life with both parents and friends. Jake Waggoner, another teen from Austin, recently came out as transgender. He and his family talk about what his transition was like for them.

This piece was produced by Alice Scott from McCallum High School in Austin, Texas, with support from Youth Media Producer Marie Cusick.

9. How sitting all day can lead to some serious health issues

How has our level of physical activity evolved throughout history? From hunter gathering to a more sedentary lifestyle, humans have become less and less active, sometimes causing serious health issues like heart disease and diabetes. The solution, however, may be in how we rest instead of how long we’re resting for. Little changes like standing during a Zoom meeting or talking a walk during a phone call can help us improve our lifestyles.

This piece was produced by Health Video Fellow Logan Tsukiyama from Maui High School in Kahului, Hawaii, with support from Connected Educator Clint Glima and Youth Media Producers Eli Kintisch and Mohammad Pasha.

10. How 9/11 weighs heavy on the generation born after the 2001 attacks

Student Reporting Labs gathered the reflections of teenagers to explore the legacy of 9/11 on their generation. They present the voices of young Americans who were born after Sept. 11, 2001, and reveal how their lives were shaped by it.

11. Viral ‘devious licks’ TikTok challenge encourages kids to steal from school

Just last month, a viral theme on the social media platform TikTok led to widespread damage in schools across the country. Known as the “devious licks” challenge, it encouraged students to record themselves stealing or vandalizing school property, then posting the video online. We asked young people and school staff about its effects on school communities.

12. A veteran’s advice for talking to someone with PTSD

Reynaldo Salazar, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, spoke with student journalist Ryan Maejima Gonzalez from Canyon High School in Santa Clarita, California about the first time he experienced PTSD, how he sought help and how a person can help a veteran in their life who may be affected by Post-traumatic stress disorder.

This story was produced by Ryan Maejima Gonzalez at Canyon High School in Santa Clarita, California with support from SRL Connected Educator Ryanne Meschkat.

13. Teaching Native history promotes ‘more understanding and more empathy’

Students at Black River Falls High School in Wisconsin interviewed Eli Youngthunder, an educator who teaches First Nations History — a class about America’s indigenous populations. Wisconsin is one of the 12 only states that requires students learn Native American content in grades K-12.

This piece was produced by Kaylee Sweno, Wyatt Madvig and Mackenzie Dougherty at Black River Falls High School in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. With support from Zac Schultz and Josh Kappler from PBS Wisconsin and connected educator Julie Tiedens.

14. Why I’m sharing Black women’s stories about body discrimination

Oakland Military Institute student Nairobi Barnes in Oakland, California asked her mother, cousin and best friend — all Black women — about their experiences with body discrimination.

15. How Michigan educators are talking to students about the Oxford school shooting

This week’s shooting at a Michigan high school was the deadliest school shooting in three years and has led to fear, anger and anxiety at school districts around the state. And so have closings in dozens of schools because of threats and out of an abundance of caution. Our Student Reporting Labs and colleagues at Detroit Public TV talked to educators about how they are talking to students.