Teen journalists report stories about young people advocating for youth voter access, climate action, and protecting under-told histories

By Maggie LeBeau, Yeonseo Seok, and SRL staff

July 8, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C. — 24 high school journalists from across the country attended the eight-day SRL Summer Academy in Washington, DC with PBS News Hour Student Reporting Labs (SRL). Fellows reported and edited video stories in seven small groups, gaining technical video journalism training and real-world reporting experience under the guidance of professional mentors.

Returning to Washington, DC for the first time in five years, this year’s academy was a collaboration with PBS News and local PBS station WETA

“I hope each of the academy fellows keeps the flame ignited as they return to their communities and share stories that can inspire action, foster empathy, and drive positive impact,” said Victor Fernandez, SRL’s Youth Media Program Director.

The fellows received in-depth coaching on interviewing, transcribing, filming, and editing from SRL  and News Hour staff. Then, they put these new skills into action across the DC region, covering stories ranging from what we can learn from Black cemeteries and teen climate activism to the new symbolism represented in renovations of the National Cathedral.

Each group worked with two mentors who provided hands-on guidance throughout the process. 

“My mentors are really amazing. They’re invested in the story but they’re also letting us do it too,” said Ana Inskeep, a rising sophomore from Washington, D.C. “They’ve taught me a lot about how to tell a really good story in three minutes. That’s going to really help me in the future during crunch time and [when] I really need to get things done.” 

Bringing their diverse backgrounds and skill sets to the group, the young reporters from across the country bonded over their shared passion for journalism and storytelling. 

“It’s really great to share our different backgrounds in journalism and learn about everybody’s different experiences,” said Navya Vasireddy, a rising senior from Parsippany, New Jersey.

During their time at WETA Headquarters, the fellows toured the PBS News Hour studio, explored careers in public media with hosts Amna Nawaz and Geoff Bennett, and talked storytelling with Nick Schifrin, the show’s foreign affairs and defense correspondent. 

“It’s been amazing working at WETA and PBS News Hour. I’m learning a lot,” said Sanaa Stokes, a rising senior from Brooklyn, New York.

Watch the behind-the-scenes video of the Academy here


Team 1

Team 1 produced a story about a teen who works with the Center for Voters Initiative and Action, a youth-run civic engagement organization. She played a pivotal role in introducing The High School Voter Empowerment Act in the U.S. Senate earlier this year, aiming to establish high schools as voter registration sites. Watch: Northern Virginia teen champions youth voter access.

The team: Ana Inskeep, a freshman at DC International School in Washington, DC.; David Moon, a junior at Rouse High School in Leander, Texas; Imania Mohamed, a senior at John F. Kennedy Memorial High School in Metuchen, New Jersey. 

Team mentors: Leah Clapman, SRL Executive Director, and Linda Lawson, freelance producer. 

Team 2

Team 2 profiled a 19-year-old climate activist from Virginia who started the non-profit organization Youth Climate Action Team (YCAT), and wrote a children’s book to build climate change awareness for younger generations. Recently recognized as a Young Explorer by the National Geographic Society for his efforts, he continues to provide free climate resources to schools across the country. Watch: Teen provides free climate resources to schools across the country.

The team: Dermott Foley, a freshman at Montgomery Blair High School in Bethesda, Maryland; Roury Fitzpatrick, a senior at Westview High School in San Diego, California; Victoria Torcasio, a freshman at Atlantic County Institute of Technology from Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey.

Team mentors: Victor Fernandez, SRL Director of Youth Media Program, and Cori Kipps, WETA Digital Content Producer. 

Team 3

Team 3 produced a piece on the stonemasons at the Washington National Cathedral who will install stone tablets inscribed with the poem, “American Song” to accompany the Now and Forever Windows. The social justice-themed windows and tablets symbolize the ongoing struggle for racial justice in America and will replace stained glass windows and plaques commemorating Confederate generals. Watch: Stonemasons at the National Cathedral chip in to tell a more inclusive history

The team: Bella Major, a junior at Richard Montgomery High School in Gaithersburg, Maryland; Joel Aguilar Bonilla, a junior at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia;  Sanaa Stokes, a junior at Professional Performing Art School in Brooklyn, New York.

Team mentors: Chris Schwalm, SRL Youth Media Producer, and Adison Godfrey, educator at York Suburban High School.

Team 4

Team 4 reported on the preservation efforts of Mount Zion and Female Union Band Society cemeteries, historic Black cemeteries that face challenges such as erosion and a lack of funding. These preservation efforts unite the community and allow young people to help others discover its history. Watch: Historic Black Cemetery preserves history despite challenges.

The team: Trinity Smith, a sophomore at Fairfield High School in New Fairfield, Connecticut; Stella St. Clair, a sophomore at Midtown High School in Atlanta, Georgia; Cody Finnegan, a junior at Arlington Career Center in Arlington, Virginia; Claire Baek, a sophomore at Chantilly High School in Chantilly, Virginia.

Team mentors: Marie Cusick, Editorial Director, and Ashley Porter, educator at DC International School.

Team 5

Team 5 profiled immigrant entrepreneur and owner of 50 Hertz Tingy Foods, Yao Zhao, who shared how he started his business and his journey of self-discovery. Watch: How one immigrant entrepreneur spiced up the pepper game.

The team: Gabriel Cohen, a freshman at Yorktown High School in Arlington, Virginia; Jenny Marquez, a sophomore at Daniel Pearl Magnet High School in Sherman Oaks, California; Emily Yip, a freshman at Holbrook Middle High School in Holbrook, Massachusetts. 

Team mentors: Becky Wandel, SRL Youth Media Producer, Erin McIntyre, Executive Producer at WNET, and Wyatt Mayes, SRL Associate Producer.           

Team 6

Team 6 covered the efforts of the 23-year-old Vice Mayor and local residents to restore Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay, combating coastal erosion and safeguarding 400 years of crabbing and sea-faring tradition. Watch: Worth fighting for: Young leader on eroding island works to protect 400 years of tradition

The team: Nuha Hussein, a junior at East Kentwood High School in Greater Grand Rapids, Michigan; Sabrina Tomei Gonzalez, a junior at Fairfield Ludlowe High School in Fairfield, Connecticut; Seven Jamison, a junior at North Garland High School in Rowlett, Texas.

Team mentors: Christine Zirneklis, SRL Sr. Manager, Communications and Partnerships, and Mohammad Pasha, freelance journalist.

Team 7

Team 7 showcased a DC-based political comedy troupe that pits comedians as political figures against each other. The show brings hilarity to hyper-polarized American politics through unfiltered debates, hoping to encourage a more “united” States. Watch: Bipartisan-bashing: A comedy troupe’s tonic to a politically polarized country.

The team: Navya Vasireddy, a junior at Academy for Math, Science, and Engineering in Parsippany, New Jersey; Miriam Reichenberg, a junior at Berkeley High School in Oakland, California; Kayla Ling, a sophomore at The Nueva School in Hillsborough, California. 

Team mentors: Anurag Papolu, SRL Graphic Designer, and Krista McKim, educator at Rockville High School.