A global public health pandemic. A nationwide reckoning with race. A mental health crisis. At The Seattle Times, we know students bring an essential perspective to these issues because they’re living through them. 

For this fifth year of our Student Voices program, we invited students from Washington public high schools and colleges to work with staff from Education Lab, a community-funded initiative of The Times, to write about issues of educational equity. Who better than students themselves to tell us what’s working for them and their peers, and what’s not? 

“The one good thing from COVID-19 is that it is forcing us to rethink what education is and who it is for,” contributor Jules Shusterman, a recent Highline College graduate and aspiring teacher, told us. 

Our nine selected Student Voices contributors represent not only the places they call home — from Seattle to Shoreline, Woodinville to Tukwila — but the experiences they have lived. Some have been bullied for their race or neurodiversity. Others come from families that have migrated or faced financial hardship. A few have met adversity in classrooms and hallways, as well as allies. 

Mawahib Ismail, a Black Somali American sophomore at the University of Washington, told us, “I never see/hear a perspective like mine anywhere in the media. Media has long neglected intersectionality and I am the prime example. … These stories deserve to be told and I would be more than honored to share them.”

This project aims to pass the mic to these young adults to examine everything from college entrance exams to staffing disparities in schools. 

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“The most hard-hitting issues that face educational institutions are the ones that are messy, and complicated, and problematic,” Student Voices contributor and North Seattle College student Sarah Fenton said. “Despite how much work a single community puts into dismantling oppressive systems, the work won’t progress if the attitudes that support those systems aren’t changed.” 

Special thanks to former Ed Lab engagement editor Anika Anand for helping onboard this new class and Ed Lab editor Katherine Long for reviewing their work. 

The following bios and photos are courtesy of the students.

Oluyemisi Ayoyinka Bolonduro

Essay: We know how to say our names; you should, too.

Oluyemisi is a sophomore at Pomona College majoring in Africana Studies. In her free time, she enjoys writing, reading, dancing and photography. Her current aspiration is to become a journalist, but she’s concluded that any situation that allows her to write and connect with people on a global scale will bring her joy.

Favorite Seattle spot or sight: The puffer fish at the Seattle Aquarium 

Jules Shusterman

Essay: Project-based learning is how we teach critical thinking

Jules received his associate degree from Highline College, and will be transferring to Rowan University’s Leadership & Social Innovation program. He plans to become a teacher. With a passion for education, he has mentored students in several middle school robotics programs using the skills he developed as co-captain of his FIRST Robotics team. Jules enjoys musical theater, reading fantasy novels and working on his blog opposingsolutions.com

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Favorite Seattle spot or sight: When time allows, you can find him at Kitsap Forest Theater either onstage or running sound. 

Charlotte “Charlie” Nunes 

Essay: Don’t forget about the in-betweens

Charlie is a junior at Woodinville High School and is enrolled in the Running Start program at Cascadia College. An aspiring journalist, she’s grateful for every opportunity to tell personal stories through writing. She hopes that one day we can get back to “normal” and continue to improve responses to mental health crises in the workplace, with or without a pandemic. 

Favorite Seattle spot or sight: The piers, specifically the Great Wheel at night 

Akila Rajan 

Essay: Virtual learning has been a challenge. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn anything from it.

Akila is a senior at Henry M. Jackson High School, and will be attending the University of Washington College of Engineering next year. She hopes to pursue her passion for the sciences, English and law through a career in public health. She’s a strong believer in the power of storytelling in any field, especially when it allows people to raise awareness. 

Favorite Seattle spot or sight: Seattle Art Museum

Leah Scott 

Essay: Washington promised me financial literacy but failed to deliver 

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Leah is a dual enrolled senior at Roosevelt High School and North Seattle College, and serves as the college’s student body president. She considers herself a reformist and active community member with a passion for helping youth succeed. She is majoring in economics and political science and hopes to transfer to the University of Washington.

Favorite Seattle spot or sight: University of Washington

Mawahib Ismail 

Essay: How the University of Washington is failing Black faculty and students

Mawahib is currently a sophomore at the University of Washington. She is a political science major and an intended double major in cinema media studies. Mawahib has worked in race relations throughout her high school and college years. She was awarded the Princeton Prize in Race Relations for the state of Washington. She was born and has primarily lived in the Seattle area. 

Favorite Seattle spot or sight: Seattle Art Museum. “I love the local art that is honored there as well as other international pieces,” she said. 

Cedric Brinkmann

Essay: The SAT is inequitable; it is time colleges relinquish it for good

Cedric is a senior at Eastlake High School. He is half-German, half-French, and moved to the United States from Germany in 2016. 

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Favorite Seattle spot or sight: He loves the Seattle region for its easy access to a diverse range of activities, such as hiking in the mountains, swimming in the lakes and exploring the cities.

Sarah Fenton 

Essay: My STEM education won’t matter if the majority of my instructors are able-bodied, cis-gendered, white males

Sarah is in her last year at North Seattle College and hopes to study biochemistry in the future. As an aspiring medical research scientist, Sarah is fueled by curiosity and the promise of new discoveries. Sarah has never found a mountain she didn’t love and spends her free time hiking and backpacking around the PNW. 

Favorite Seattle spot or sight: The First Burroughs section of Burroughs Mountain Trail in Mount Rainier National Park

Lovina Andersen 

Essay: The future of public education: lessons learned in quarantine

Originally from Rochester, Thurston County, Lovina is a freshman at Brigham Young University. She loves music and history and hopes to one day share those passions as an educator. In her free time she enjoys hiking, reading and sharing adventures with friends and family. 

Favorite Seattle spot or sight: Chihuly Garden and Glass museum