Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
It was already 6 PM, and I walked across the classroom, wary of the many fingers tapping away at their keyboards, their mouse clicks, their resizing and editing articles, photos, and captions. It was the day before the newspaper production deadline, and my team of middle schoolers had worked tirelessly on their articles and layouts. Just before we hit send, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of pride. Student Newspaper in Every Middle School project began as an impossible dream. The ubiquity of fake news is undermining our democracy and our First Amendment right. I believe that my project can undermine the spread of fake news by educating young students to become better consumers of news.
Determined, I began my journey to achieve my dream. I was naive to think that merely sending “email presentation” to local middle school principals will be sufficient to convince them to start a newspaper with me. I was dead wrong. Out of 43 emails sent, I received exactly “0” interest. Out of desperation, I started calling schools one by one. Another valuable lesson learned – principals don’t answer phone calls. Six schools picked up my call, but only Principal Lauer of Young Oak Kim Academy (YOKA), a Los Angeles Unified School District middle school, called me back. I implored the reluctant Principal for a chance to explain my plan, and was elated when he agreed to meet me. It was my only shot.
I felt like a person on a hopeless mission when I first walked the halls of YOKA. “What am I doing here? I don’t have to do this,” I kept mumbling to myself. A receptionist told me to wait as he had a meeting. Some twenty agonizing minutes passed before smiling Principal Lauer walked out to greet me. Remarkably, he read my presentation and told me that he had been trying to the same thing. Just like that, I became an advisor to YOKA’s student newspaper. School bureaucracy quickly dampened my short-lived elation. As a minor, I couldn’t advise students on my own. So, the school had to assign a teacher. But, no one wanted the extra work, so I had to go around and convince teachers of the project’s merits one by one. I was overjoyed in tears when Ms. Ramos agreed to co-advise. Problems never ended. I envisioned 30+ Energizer Bunnies to welcome me to first class. Instead, I got two bored students, wondering aloud “why they had to be there?” I was demoralized. But, I had expended too much effort and convinced too many people to quit. All dreams start small and humble, and I had to accept the fact that my dream was no exception. I learned another undeniable truth – that getting an “idea” turned out to be the easiest step.
In comparison, executing that “idea” was excruciatingly more difficult. Convincing conflicted individuals to work for a common goal was impossibly challenging. I needed to be resilient, but I was always prepared to fail as well. I stumbled on to a “tipping point.” I told my staff that the feature article’s “star” will be them. The new “celebrity” status was enticing enough to get them enthusiastic. I took the cue from their metamorphosis and started promising “stardom” to other students. Encouraging narcissism through flattery worked as seven more students enthusiastically joined. Our goal was simple, “tell accurate stories about students, the ‘stars’ of our paper.” The “YOKA Times” was successfully launched last year and I am proud to be working with two more schools this year. It was 6:30 PM, and we finally finished our first issue.
“High five everyone! We did it,” my students and I were overjoyed. I held the “YOKA Times” in my hands, smiling at the team who worked so hard to make this happen.