Education cannot return to “normal.” This has been a widespread refrain throughout the global pandemic, which exposed breaks, fractures and inequities of all kinds in public education. 

For this sixth year of The Seattle Times Student Voices project, we asked Washington youth living through these challenging times how schools can change their practices and policies to better serve all students. Some of these contributors have experienced class, race and gender discrimination. Others say schools are neglecting to seek student input on decisions that affect them.

Between now and the end of the school year, these eight young people will share their experiences and ideas for making systemic changes they deem necessary to improve schools. We hope you’ll learn as much from them as we have. 

The following bios and photos are courtesy of the youth authors.

Faduma B. Abdi (she/her) is a freshman at the University of Washington. She enjoys reading a range of novels, from horror to fiction. Faduma likes spending her time with her little siblings and taking them to the park and playing soccer with them.

One positive or memorable impact public education has had on you: “I remember during elementary school, I couldn’t fit in because I didn’t have a teacher who looked like me or any teachers and faculty that understood me. But it did have a positive impact on shaping me into who I am today. Without my public education, I don’t think I would here now study at the University of Washington, and I am thankful I had this opportunity,” she said.

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Crow Delavan (they/them) is a sophomore at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle, where they are one of the leaders of Pride Club. They are an advocate for queer rights, and love writing about education and the queer community. Crow is a theater tech for their school plays and loves spending time with their friends and their cat.

Illustration courtesy of Cecilia Stewart
Student Voices: Why we need to teach kids about gender identity

Positive impact of public education: “The Pride Club at my school. I have met a lot of my best friends through Pride Club, and also found a really amazing community,” they said. 

Lily Fredericks (she/her) is a sophomore at Shorecrest High School who loves forming connections with others. An ardent comic artist for her school’s newspaper, “The Highland Piper,” she illustrates comics inspired not only by her experiences, but by those of others. She strives to amplify the voices of her peers, offering listening ears, a compassionate heart and an inspiring mindset to all.

Social Emotional Learning curriculum teaches students how to manage emotions, set goals, establish healthy relationships, and make decisions to set them up for success in school and in life. (Illustration by Lily Fredericks)
Student Voices: Social Emotional Learning can create a culture of understanding in schools

Positive impact of public education: “My school offers a program called AVID that teaches students academic skills to aid their success in high school and beyond,” she said. “Never have I felt more accepted and inspired than by my heroic teacher, Mrs. Haines, and my diligent peers. Through compassion and perseverance, the AVID program has helped me recognize my potential and challenge myself in a supportive learning environment.”

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Maya Gheewala (she/her) is a junior at Sammamish High School in Bellevue. An avid swimmer and water safety advocate, she enjoys everything from wakesurfing to providing free swim lessons to families with limited access to water safety education. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, playing fantasy football and spending time with friends and family. 

Positive impact of public education: Maya has been part of the International Spanish Academy (ISA) Spanish immersion program since kindergarten. The program has allowed her to become fluent in Spanish and learn about Hispanic culture throughout her public school K-12 education. 

Medhya Goel (she/her) is a senior at Eastlake High School, president of her school’s mock trial and speech and debate teams, reports for the “Sammamish Independent,” and volunteers at local restorative justice courts. In her free time, she enjoys (trying to) solve The New York Times crossword, exploring nature with friends, playing instruments, and meeting new people.

Positive impact of public education: Medhya is thankful for her extraordinary elementary school teachers, Ms. Hobbs and Ms. Wonder, who helped her discover the fun in learning through hands-on exploration, simulations, and smiles.

Rishi Hazra (he/him) is a junior and student body vice president at Skyline High School. Rishi has been involved with the organization Sustainability Ambassadors and the Issaquah Environmental Board and is currently working to incorporate a student-designed sustainable curriculum into Skyline classrooms. Outside of school, Rishi enjoys music, playing classical piano, and recording vocal covers.

Positive impact of public education: “In middle school, our physical science teacher showed us a video on systems thinking, introducing us to the concept of sustainability. This changed my outlook on school and drove my curiosity about “the bigger picture” as I tried to understand class concepts in the context of my daily life,” he said. 

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Ndalo L.A. Mwamba (she/her) is enrolled at the University of Washington, currently taking a break, and will be returning this fall. When Ndalo is passionate about something, she says, she does everything in her power to produce the best outcome. She loves anything to do with social justice, protection of children and doing almost anything that directly impacts people.

Positive impact of public education: Ndalo has been involved in advocacy work since her fifth-grade class’ successful campaign to get a vending machine installed in their school. She’s since been a peer counselor, a charter schools advocate in Olympia and a Teach for America supporter. As president of Black Culture Club, she planned a successful inaugural fundraising gala highlighting community members and students who exemplified Black Excellence.

Jack Woerner (he/him) is a senior at Kent Meridian High School and is soon to become a full-fledged adult with all the benefits and curses it brings, such as taxes. A musician since elementary school, he plays the mandolin and, although green, the keyboard. Jack has enjoyed writing from a young age; every comic and graphic novel has given him an appreciation for and longing to do the same.

Positive impact of public education: Jack enrolled into his high school tech program before he even knew what it was. He joined the Kent-Meridian Technology Academy, and although he is no longer a member, he says he will never forget that experience and he still uses those lessons each day.