STUDENT: Everyone's back in school, but you can't see them smile.
You just see their eyes.
STUDENT 2: Hola!
STUDENT 3: Bonjour.
STUDENT 4: Konichiwa.
STUDENT 5: So, I bet we all spent our time during the virtual learning, wishing for the day we could come back to the building.
STUDENT 6: I wake up and it's another day of high school.
STUDENT 7: I have to get up early and pack my bag and not forget to pack a mask.
STUDENT 8: In the hallways.
There are so many signs and reminders to wear masks correctly.
STUDENT 9: Seems like I'm forgetting something.
Oh my gosh.
STUDENT 10: I personally feel disconnected.
STUDENT 11: Life in general just feels kind of overwhelming WOMAN: When you see just how many people cannot keep their eyes open, you have to ask, why.
STUDENT 12: I'm able to relieve some stress by reading in the library.
Turns out, reading can be pretty fun.
STUDENT 13: In class, it seems like we're using our computers twice the amount that we were before.
STUDENT 14: Because of the pandemic and being isolated away from everybody for so long.
It actually motivated me to be more social.
STUDENT 15: It just shows how unexpected friendships can happen in your weird and unexpected circumstances like COVID, but definitely for the better.
STUDENT 16: Quite frankly, I don't know if we'll ever go back to the way it used to be.
MAN: It's important to take a step back and smell the roses and enjoy the little things.
STUDENT 17: Overall, there has been a lot of changes, but me and all of my classmates are facing this together.
NAWAZ: Hey, there.
What's up, everybody?
I'm Amna Nawaz from the PBS NewsHour.
Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I am so excited to be here with all of you tonight, and this time I'm not alone.
I'm joined by two incredible co-hosts who are also incredible student journalists.
I want you to meet them both now.
Kate, over to you.
Why don't you tell people about yourself?
NAKAMURA: I'm Kate Nakamura and I'm a junior at Kaua'I High School in Lihue, Hawaii, and I've been doing student journalism since the sixth grade and I've been loving it ever since.
NAWAZ: Awesome, we're so excited you're here tonight, Kate, and we have another co-host with us, Terry.
Why don't you introduce yourself to folks?
JONES: Hi, everyone.
I'm Terry Jones here from Pinson, Alabama, and I had the pleasure of doing SRL in Clay-Chalkville High School, and I'm so excited to be here.
NAWAZ: We are excited you are here too, and we're excited all of you are joining us as well.
As we all know, COVID has had a profound effect on students and on schools.
I myself have two little kids in the second grade and kindergarten.
I have seen just how hard the adjustment has been.
It's like we just cannot get back to normal, and all of that is taking a huge toll on everyone's mental health.
At the same time, there are huge debates in education that are going on across the country.
Kate and Terry, I know you guys have seen these two at the center of it all are folks like you, the students, the teenagers who are living through all of it and trying to figure it all out.
So, I want to hear from you guys, Kate and Terry.
What has this school year been like for you?
Kate, why don't you start?
NAKAMURA: This school year, I would say in one word, has been interesting, you know, taking in the normal routine before the pandemic, you know, going to school, extra extracurriculars and then going home, but also now mixing in mandates and rules that have come from the COVID 19 pandemic.
So, dealing with this mix has definitely been interesting.
It's a very diplomatic answer.
Terry, what about for you?
What's, what's your school year been like?
JONES: I agree with Kate, this school year has been interesting and different for me personally, making the transition from high school to college, I already knew that it would be a different experience.
But when a pandemic inserts itself in there too, it changes things even more.
Like you know, you're saying, like your students are doing mostly online, so you may not see each other on campus as often and the cancelation of school events.
So, it's just a lot that changes in... Yeah, I just think we're all just trying to figure out how to navigate through it all.
NAWAZ: Yeah, I mean, that's a huge transition anyway, right?
High school to college, let alone in the middle of a pandemic.
But what about this show?
Tell me what it's been like working on this show and what you guys are most looking forward to seeing over the next hour, Terry?
JONES: It has been such an amazing experience, getting to work on this show and being able to connect with Kate and just really, you know, it's different, you know, because we're obviously connecting through Zoom and all of that.
But it just shows how life is right now.
And I'm just so excited to just see the stories from these teen perspectives and youth perspectives and on mental health and school life today.
And yeah, I'm just really excited to see.
NAWAZ: So am I. I can't wait for some of these stories.
Kate, what are you looking forward to?
NAKAMURA: I'm looking forward to seeing what students, you know, in the mainland are going through and what's important to them being in Hawaii, you know, I've seen what I've been going through and other students at my school, but hearing from people who, you know, go to a different school and live in an entirely different state, you know, hearing what's important to them and you know what they're feeling right now.
NAWAZ: We're going to talk about all of that.
We're going to hear more from both of you.
We're going to hear from a lot of different students out there sharing their stories.
But up first, we asked students to capture the weirdness of being back in school after a year of remote learning.
Here's what life looks like for them.
PONCE: Making friends in high school is already difficult enough, but with the rises and falls of COVID 19, it seems almost impossible.
TABORA: It feels like almost like a ghost of what high school should be.
ARRUDA: With almost 400 students out.
Classes have become empty, and hallways have become quieter.
GALLARDO: I stopped hanging out with the friends I used to hang out with during 10th grade.
So now I find myself isolated from everyone else just so I could stay safe.
PONCE: A lot of my friendships from my freshman year have since faded, especially because I switched from e-learning to brick and mortar while most of my friends stayed online.
My once large group broke into different pockets of one or two.
I would still talk to only every once in a while.
COLEMAN: I think there's universal struggle of adjusting to the new restrictions set upon us has actually made it easier to connect with others.
Since I have something that I can relate to.
Of course, there are still some concerns with the pandemic around.
For example, I don't walk around lunch anymore.
My friends and I like to stay at the same table every day just to avoid contact with people we don't really know.
But overall, I've made new friendships and found myself going out more.
SERRANO: The pandemic has definitely changed the way I socially interact with my friends who are at school, but contrary to popular assumption, it's not actually in a negative way.
I started making plans with my friends more.
At lunch, I always hang out with them, always.
It's always fun to be together.
During quarantine, I actually picked up a new interest in making music, so that actually pushed me to joining the Music Club here at Poly and in that club, I've met tons of new people, friendly, talented people, and I'm honestly glad that I stepped out of my comfort zone to interact with all these new people.
LAMB: Things are normal.
NAKAMURA: Hey, everyone.
This is where I live on Kuai' I, also known as the "Garden Isle of Hawaii", I live here with my family, including my younger brother.
Many of us have a younger brothers and sisters at home, and we watch them struggling to figure out how to go to school in person, especially since the vaccines for 5-to-11-year- olds wasn't available until a few months ago.
Let's hear how it's going for one second grader on the island of Hawaii.
CHUN-HOON: Hi, my name is Ivory Chun-Hoon and I'm a second grader at EB De Silva Elementary School.
I have a really big family and we're really close.
We see them two or maybe three times a week.
My cousin and her family will text and FaceTime to keep in touch.
And sometimes our grandparents would join in too.
It doesn't really make sense to me since in school we have more than 10 children in one classroom.
This year, going to be the first year I'm going to be in school for the full year.
So, I am trying to make the shift for me and Google Meets and going to school every single day.
When I was at home, I could do my work at my own pace, but in school we have to follow the same schedule as everyone else.
What helps me to get used to is I tell myself, yeah, these are the toughest times I've had, but I'm tough too.
JONES: She's so amazing.
I love how she recognizes her own toughness at such a young age.
Now mental health is so important and the challenges that come with it affects people of all ages.
I wish I could have given my younger self some advice.
NAKAMURA: Well, in the next segment called, "Letters to my Middle School Self", you're going to be seeing videos throughout the show from both students and some pretty amazing mental health influencers.
Here's the first one.
FAITH: Dear middle school, Faith.
MACHUCA: Dear Middle School, Eric.
MILLER: Dear middle school, Maya.
TRAN: If I could go back in time to give you some advice, here's what I would say.
MACHUCA: I want you to know that not everything right now is the end of the world.
HARRIS: Trust me, it does get better.
WINCHESTER: I know you were overwhelmed, trying so hard to be perfect to fit the box made for you by society.
SOUSA: You always felt as if everyone was watching you and you couldn't do anything about it.
So, you were just quiet and didn't talk to anyone.
FELLINGHAM: Just know that so many people are in the same boat and are feeling the same things as you.
You're not alone.
HARRISON: If anything, middle school has taught me that everyone goes through the same experiences, but in different ways, and that's OK that they're different.
DARBY: I've learned it's better to rely on yourself than to rely on others' opinions of you.
LANCTOT: Don't make decisions because they are popular and get laughs, do what's right.
CIOFFI: And it might be intimidating at first, but you will get through it as well.
MILLER: Stop caring so much about what other people think about you.
Those friends who you question whether or not are worried about your best interests are most certainly not.
VARMA: I want you to know that you are deserving of having people in your life that treat you with kindness, respect and make you feel loved.
MASON: And you want to make everyone happy.
But sometimes you just can't do that.
You got to do what's best for you.
DIAZ-VELAZQUEZ: You have to find the balance between being able to talk to others about your feelings and taking the time to yourself with yourself.
SUESCUN: So, here's what you should know.
Addressing your mental health concerns is not a sign of weakness or something all in your head.
SOLIVEN: My point is that there is going to be music and movies and songs.
People to meet, passions to pursue that you have yet to discover.
JAHNZ: Grasp on to the joys in life and that'll help you get through.
COSTELLO: Despite what others tell you about work ethic and intelligence, do not push yourself to your breaking point.
FORBES: Be happy and stay a kid for as long as you can.
GERMANI: Take it easy on yourself and you will get through this.
FELLINGHAM: So, try it once in a while, just take a minute and appreciate all the things that are great about you because I know I didn't do it enough.
NAWAZ: While every year parents and students across the country have to fill out health forms at the beginning of school, and some schools will soon require a COVID 19 vaccine for in-person learning.
That vaccine mandate is being met with some mixed reactions.
Our student reporting lab at Westview High School in San Diego, California, shared how it's being received where they are.
LY: I believe that the mandate is a good thing, as its... certain restrictions have to be in place to prevent people from harming others or themselves.
CRUZ: In the fall, California Governor Newsom issued a statewide vaccine mandate for students ages five and above for in-person learning, according to state officials, it will likely go into effect July 1st, 2022.
Dr. Taun Dang is a primary care physician in San Diego.
DANG: We have a solution to try to recover from this pandemic, and that requires vaccinations.
They improve your immune system; they increase your antibodies.
So, if and when you get exposed to the virus, you already can mount a response and not develop a severe infection that leads to hospitalizations or worse case, even death.
CRUZ: West View sophomore, Thea Roy says this vaccine mandate is intended to protect others and prevent the spread of COVID 19.
ROY: People die from COVID every day and people lose their loved ones.
The vaccination is to help prevent that.
CRUZ: According to Westview student Gianni Ly, it is necessary to be vaccinated in order to protect ourselves and others.
LY: Regarding students who don't want to get the vaccine, but the mandate forces them to, I feel like they have to get it because it's for their own safety and for others safety.
CRUZ: Meanwhile, student Corinne Uzcategui believes students should have more of a say in whether or not they choose to get vaccinated.
UZCATEGUI: I think students can make their own choice.
If their parents want the vaccine, and they don't, they don't have to get it.
The other way around, if their parents don't want the vaccine and the student wants the vaccine, they should be able to get it.
CRUZ: She thinks students should be able to make decisions themselves and should not be targeted for their decision not to be vaccinated.
UZCATEGUI: I don't have a problem with the vaccine, just personally, I'm not going to get it, and I have a problem with people condemning unvaccinated people.
CRUZ: Although some people are still worried about the vaccine mandate, experts say the vaccines are effective.
DANG: I understand the hesitancy.
It is a fairly new vaccine and that's what they're afraid of.
But I will say, looking at the evidence, it is a very safe vaccine, and the number of side effects are very, very small.
CRUZ: The thought process behind the mandate is to slow the spread of COVID and keep as many people as safe as possible.
LY: I, sort of, think that there's sort of an obligation for us to protect others.
CRUZ: According to this mandate.
All students in California will eventually have to show proof of vaccination for in-person learning.
For the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs, I'm Joey Cruz in San Diego, California.
DAVIS: Dear Middle School, Tarzan, if I could go back in time, I would want you to know that adults aren't the enemy and are people that you can go to for guidance because they were once middle schooler's dealing with the exact same thing that you are dealing with right now.
And just because you don't have the most expensive clothes or your mom isn't driving the best car, that doesn't define you as a person and that everybody struggling with fitting in in some type of way.
I would tell my middle school self that you are never alone dealing with these problems.
You may feel like it, but the person sitting next to you who seems like they have it all and they're dealing with something as well.
So instead of neglecting the feelings that a student has -has helped them work through and to show them that it will get better.
NAKAMURA: I don't know about you, Terry, but I hear a lot of students feeling unmotivated and frustrated by school.
JONES: I remember when I graduated last year, so many students were just doing the bare minimum.
NAKAMURA: In some ways, the pandemic has shown us that maybe we should be doing school differently.
And next up, we have a story from Eagle Valley High School in Colorado, where a teacher decided it was time to rethink what goes on during school hours.
MAN: Go do some tricks.
VANVALKENBURG: During the pandemic, I noticed that a lot of students were skateboarding, I can see the skate park from my house.
So, when I see kids interested in something, of course I'm going to figure out a way to bring that into the classroom.
REPORTER: Miss V is a teacher at Red Canyon High School in Gypsum, Colorado trying to solve a problem that students know all too well.
VANVALKENBURG: There's something missing in the education system.
Kids find themselves not wanting to go to school and at the skate park.
Why can't we take that something else and make school a part of it?
REPORTER: While the class may just look like students fooling around at the skate park, they're actually learning about urban planning, design and how to build a stronger community.
VANVALKENBURG: We talked about barriers that stand in the way of kids being able to skate, and then we came up with solutions to those barriers to make skateboarding more accessible to all kids in our community.
EVANS: Mostly what we're doing right now is trying to get a skate park in Avon to make things a little more accessible to kids there and also help reduce the crowding.
We are working on getting funding from Tony Hawk Foundation to revamp this place.
We're standing out right here and we, my group specifically has been working on a design that we think would be really cool.
CARRILLO: I'm actually like doing work for my community, and it's not really like just a class anymore.
I'm part of something bigger than just this class.
REPORTER: With each new trick, students understand more about themselves, as well as how to connect, how to teach and how to learn from one another.
VANVALKENBURG: It's hard if you're learning to do from the most basic skill to a really difficult skill that takes a lot of resilience to get back up and try again.
EVANS: It's one of those things where if you could put your mind to something and just kind of get into it, you can really prove to yourself that you can do whatever you want.
PARRISH: I always thought it was like super cool, and I thought the skaters were super cool.
Um, so it just it makes me feel good.
And I-I like learning new things.
EVANS: School can be stressful for kids these days, and I think it's really important that we have these days to be able to just be able to relax because it's not like we get recess anymore.
You know, we don't get to go play with our friends and use our imaginations if we get rid of that creativity, by the time we're adults, we're going to be doing anything useful with the world.
You know, we're not going to be able to solve these world problems because we're all looking at the, straight what's ahead of us, just not taking time to think about things that are outside box.
JIMENEZ-VELAZCO: It helps a lot with conquering your fears.
Because it's scary to do some things, and when you finally own up to it, it's relieving.
I recently learned how to drop in.
It's pretty scary, but I did it.
FLEISCHER: It just gets everybody out of their comfort zone if they're not really know how to skate much for, like the new people.
That extra two hours, three hours.
It works, you learn new stuff.
So, it's nice.
JIMINEZ-VELAZCO: We go out and skate and try to improve.
That's mostly what we do.
REPORTER: And while Miss V is teaching her students how to face their fears at the same time, she had to do it herself.
VANVALKENBURG: I learned how to drop in and I was scared because you fall and I'm looking at a student who is a language learner who I've watched take so many risks in the classroom and I've watched sit there and struggle when he was younger, and I've forced him to read and write and grow.
He's got the drop in.
He totally can do it and he's cheering me on.
And so of course, I'm going to take that risk.
I should take the same risks I'm asking students to take within the classroom.
NAWAZ: So earlier this year, Student Reporting Labs put out a challenge to hear from students about what they wish they had learned in school.
A lot of students talked about financial literacy.
Take a listen.
You need to understand in order to get anything or go anywhere in the world and quite frankly, a lot of people are afraid of it.
MADSEN: I wish we had a more in-depth economics course because I took Econ my sophomore year for only a semester, and I feel like that wasn't enough time to learn a lot of stuff.
TAMIRU: things like taxes, debt and credit score building.
Those aren't taught enough in school, and I think it's necessary for us to know how to be financially successful in the real world.
LENEWAY: That was something I had to learn outside of school from my grandpa.
He actually took all the grandkids and he made us go on Zoom calls with him, and he taught us all of his financial knowledge about the stock market.
GARY: I actually learned how to write a check from social media.
It was just things that they thought kids should know.
And it was really interesting because I thought, you know, in school, they teach stuff like math and numbers like that, but they don't teach you like the important numbers.
ORCEV: One way I discovered stuff like this out of school was through the social media platform, TikTok.
Users make videos to educate young people on money management, and I think that's been really helpful.
These aren't really things that we learn in school, and I think it would be it could be helpful for students to prepare for college and young adulthood.
MURTZUA: School should really reevaluate their priorities and see kind of what they want to come out of their schooling systems.
And if it's going to be a ton of broke young adults or if they want intellectual and stable and happy young adults.
JONES: Hey, everyone.
I'm here in my hometown of Pinson, Alabama.
You know, Alabama is where the civil rights movement began.
You know, another topic students have a lot of thoughts on?
How schools are teaching American history.
KOSKINEN: I was looking on YouTube Stories one night, and I heard about the true story of the first Thanksgiving, and it really threw me for a loop because in school we'd always glossed over the first Thanksgiving.
But when I learned the true stories behind it, I was just blown away.
SIERRA: You know, I'm a (inaudible) Pueblo.
My history is not really in the books.
What the school does is that they-they hide the reality of what happens like, you know, the genocides, the massacres, the battles.
It's very hard to tell the truth to kids, because, you know, they're very young.
But yeah, yet again, yes, they should.
KOSKINEN: The genocide that Americans committed.
We, as Americans, should know about it.
SIERRA: Our voice, it's not really heard out there in the world because we were shut down by the history books or the stereotypes.
So that way you can help us out is listen to us, be aware of what's happening to our people.
BLACK: To middle school, Rebecca, if I could go back in time, I would want you to know that you do not have to have everything figured out right now.
If you're having negative thoughts or feelings or are overwhelmed by school expectations or just life in general.
You can do something about it.
I can tell you, once I got the courage to reach out for help myself, I was astonished at how many people could really be there for me.
There is so much strength in your own vulnerability.
You don't have to fake it until you make it this time.
I love you and I am always here for you.
NAKAMURA: A lot of decisions over how to address tough topics in the classroom are made at the school board level.
Reporters Mikayla Lambert and Jeremiah Suter Monto in Texas attended meetings in their community to find out more.
Here are their school board diaries.
LAMBERT: Have you ever been to a school board meeting?
Do you like your sanity?
Well, I don't.
That's why me and Jeremiah attended the 2021 board meetings this past fall in our hometown of Leander, Texas.
So, I just made it to the conference center.
Actually, we also went because school boards make decisions that really do affect students, and as a youth journalist, we needed to see what was really going on.
We saw people with interesting signs such as this one, this one and these ones, and we spoke to people about why they were there.
SINGLETON: I'm here to support the DEI policies.
GARCIA DAVIS: Tonight, I was here because of the agenda item in relation to equity.
HART: Diversity and equity and inclusion are important values that we should all stand up for, and I think it creates better learning environments.
LAMBERT: So why were these board meetings so hard to sit through?
Well, at the ones we went to, citizens had a lot and I mean a lot to say about the Schools Equity and Diversity Advisory Committee.
LAMBERT: So, what happened?
The board passed the DEI agenda and recently hired the district's first chief of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Will we keep going to board meetings this semester?
I do like me a good debate.
I encourage everyone to go speak up at their local board meeting.
I think it's important to have a say in your community, especially if it affects you directly.
JONES: Kate, did you know that school board meetings were a thing?
NAKAMURA: Not really, but I should pay closer attention.
JONES: Yeah, I got to say it's definitely not something that I think about until now.
NAKAMURA: Well, in York, Pennsylvania, students started paying attention when their school board voted to ban certain books.
Student reporter Lizzie Pegg has their story.
PEGG: In November 2020, a school board in Pennsylvania voted to ban a list of hundreds of books, such as Matthew Cherry's "Hair Love" and "Me and White Supremacy" by Layla F. Saad, as well as children's books about Rosa Parks and Aretha Franklin.
The ban by the Central York School Board infuriated many students in the district.
They felt that the board is purposely suppressing books for and by people of color, so they united together, started to organize protests and began their fight.
GUPTA: We are all in this together.
You are not alone.
Our voice needs to be heard.
LAMBERT: It wasn't until after these students gained national media attention that the public backlash pushed the Central York School Board to repeal the ban in September.
MAN: Do you think the adults have banned these books have read these books?
BOTH: Absolutely not, no.
LAMBERT: Edha Gupta and Olivia Pituch, are both seniors at Central York High School that led protests in their community.
GUPTA: As a teenager or a young person.
In this world, you're often told that you don't have the ability to speak up about or you don't have the ability to make a difference or what you say won't be heard by people that are older than you.
PITUCH: I was always scared of doing something wrong or saying something wrong or making someone upset.
I didn't feel like I had a voice, and I couldn't make a change.
You know, like, I saw all these big things happening in the world and I was one teenager.
I didn't think anything like that could happen.
And then and then the books got banned, and I, I just knew that something needed to be done.
GUPTA: It was successful that we reversed the ban, but what is more so successful is that we are able to educate students every single day about what makes this country great.
People begin waking up and seeing what needed to be done.
So, when the community came together, there was really nothing that the school board could do because they saw their whole their community uniting over this.
PEGG: In a statement following the vote to lift the ban.
The board president said the goal have been to balance legitimate academic freedom with what could be literature and materials that are too activist in nature.
MILSTEN: I never believe it's OK to ban books.
PEGG: Amy Milsten is a newly elected board member.
MILSTEN: I think that almost every single book on that list, with maybe just a few exceptions, would help somebody.
PITUCH: I'm an LGBTQ+ member.
I didn't feel heard for the longest time until I began finding myself in books and realizing that it was OK to be who I was.
I often was really scared from a young age to speak about my Indian heritage.
But the more I speak about it, the more I notice that people want to listen nowadays.
And I think that the more that we have those healthy conversations about race, culture and education, the more everyone can help us in our mission to make this world a more loving, equitable and inclusive place.
PEGG: These young activists realize that by organizing and supporting each other, teenagers can have a say in their education and turn back bad policies.
For the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs, I'm Lizzie Pegg in York County, Pennsylvania.
NAWAZ: You know, who else has a lot of power over what happens in schools?
Lawmakers, your elected officials in state and national legislatures.
In our next story, Carolina Valerio from Alief Kerr High School in Houston, reports on a new Texas state law that affects what teams trans athletes can play on.
Afterwards, we'll hear from some students about what it feels like to be at the center of these debates.
VALERIO: Hi, I'm Carolina Valerio from Houston, Texas.
There used to be a rule in Texas that stated that students must compete on teams, according to the gender on their birth certificate.
Technically, if a transgender student changed their birth certificate, then they would be able to play with the team of the gender they identify with.
Our new Texas law changes all that.
In the fall, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into Law House Bill 25, also known as the "Save Women's Sports Bill".
This law just went into effect on January 18, 2022.
Supporters say the law protects equal opportunity for young women in sports.
Opponents say it marginalizes transgender students.
Let's look at the language in this law.
"The statement of a student's biological sex on a student's official birth certificate is considered to have correctly stated the student's biological sex only if the statement was entered at or near the time of the student's birth."
So, what are people saying about this new law?
The primary sponsor of the bill was Valoree Swanson.
She's a state representative from north of Houston.
She called the bill one of the greatest victories for equality for girls since Title IX passed 50 years ago.
Opponents call the law hurtful.
CROWD: Trans rights are human right!
Trans rights are human rights!
MEAGAN: It can make it a lot harder for members of the trans community to feel like they can be themselves.
LAMBERT: Texas isn't the only state with a law like this.
So far, nine other states limit or prevent transgender girls from participating in female sports.
Proposed legislations and lawsuits affecting transgender students and sports, as well as access to bathrooms and health care, continue to play out across the country.
RICHIE: Hello everybody, my name is Landon Richie, I use he-him pronouns, and I'm a sophomore at the University of Houston, majoring in Political Science.
I am also transgender and I'm here with three other people who identify as trans or gender non-conforming, and we're here to discuss sort of the real-world implications of bills like HB 25, which you just heard about and just in general, the existence as trans people, young trans people in school in the United States right now.
RODRIGUEZ: I'm Lily or Ethan.
I go by any pronouns.
I live in Pennsylvania.
I am a freshman at Arcadia University.
BROWN: I'm Emit.
I'm a sophomore in high school in Gypsum Colorado.
Right now, I'm using they-them pronouns, but that will change at some point because I am gender fluid.
SULLIVAN: Hi, my name is Megan.
I'm a senior in high school in Florida.
I go by, they-them and she-her pronouns.
RICHIE: What do you wish people knew about what it was like to be a young trans person, not only in high school, but in your everyday lives?
SULLIVAN: A lot of my teachers and a lot of people just kind of ignore the fact that I'm trans, that you just see me as a girl when I'm on a girl because I am non-binary (inaudible) gender.
There's a reason I go by both they-them, and she her pronouns is because of that's how I feel.
RODRIGUEZ: More times than not going to the bathroom, you know, in the middle of class, I take a little longer because I take a second to decide like, oh, where do I go?
You know, I am a student, I'm not a trans student.
I go to school, you know, I have tests and essays and deadlines to meet.
And on top of that, I have to worry about what bathroom I have to go into.
I have to worry about what I want to be called?
That's very unnecessary stress that could be solved with education.
RICHIE: Why is it important for youth at all ages to learn about the existence of LGBTQ+ people and just in general, the history of LGBTQ+ people?
SULLIVAN: It's important for people who aren't trans to know that trans kids are just they're just normal kids, like everyone else.
RODRIGUEZ: I grew up thinking there was just boy or girl.
I was taught that, and I had to unlearn that myself.
Having the education and the vocabulary to express how I feel has changed my life entirely.
BROWN: You don't need tradition all the time.
It's what's holding a lot of us back is people's idea of what is traditional, and you know, people like me are definitely not traditional in people's eyes.
If people were to have been taught this at a younger age, maybe kids would know who they are at a younger age, and it wouldn't be...
It'd still be hard, but it wouldn't be as hard.
RICHIE: This past legislative session, Texas proposed anti LGBTQ+ bills.
But Texas is not the only state where this is happening.
This year has been an unprecedented year for attacks on trans youth and trans people in general.
SULLIVAN: Florida was the eight state to pass the anti-trans sports bill after Texas, and even though I'm on sports teams, I'm not really a sports person.
It's still really scary to see them like invalidating your existence and saying, "No, you're wrong, you can't be on the sports team."
And it's scary because if they can pass this bill, what else can they pass?
RODRIGUEZ: What some people may not understand is that when you make laws like this, people don't feel safe in their states, in their counties, in their homes, in their hometowns and places they grew up.
I live in Philadelphia.
It's scary to me knowing that in the United States, this bill can be passed in general.
That doesn't necessarily make me safe because I live in a more tolerant city.
This is an every trans student issue.
This affects everyone.
If it can be passed there, it can be passed here, it can be passed anywhere.
RICHIE: If you could wave a magic wand, what changes would you hope to see made in the world for trans people?
SULLIVAN: I mean, I would just hope that there would be laws to support and help uplift trans people and not treat them as different and make them the same as everyone else and equal.
BROWN: I want it to be easier to get the courage to actually say, "Hey, I am transgender, or I am non-binary."
If one person doesn't accept them, I want people to realize that another person will.
RICHIE: Well, this has been such an incredible conversation, and I want to thank you all so much for your time, your energy and your thoughts today.
PANKOW: Dear Middle School, Rudy Pankow.
Don't worry about how far others get.
I promise, you push yourself to the furthest you can possibly go.
You won't be disappointed in how far you end up.
Remember, it's way more impressive to try and fail with a smile on your face than not try at all.
Always thank those who check in with you.
Even if that's just your mom and dad.
Maybe try checking in with them a little more often.
NAWAZ: The pandemic has taken a toll on everyone's mental health, so Student Reporting Labs checked in with one of our favorite school counselors, Edith Porter, to see how students are faring.
BELL: Hi Ms. Porter, thank you for speaking with me today?
PORTER: Hi Teri, thank you for having me.
BELL: Last year, Student Reporting Labs interviewed you about teen mental health during the pandemic and your predictions for this school year.
Let's take a listen to part of that interview.
PORTER: There will be more check ins.
I'm predicting that parents will be more open to resources that we can have open conversations about race, about gender, about the pandemic, about mental health.
I predict that when we come together, we've learned something.
We've learned how to treat each other a little bit better.
BELL: So, what have you seen the school year and all of those things still happening?
So, this school year, I have seen more students referring themselves to mental health therapy teachers.
Emailing, more parents coming into the school looking for help for their children.
I've seen a lot of children bring their peers down.
I'm finding that the conversations about grief have increased because, as you know, Teri, the pandemic there was a lot of loss.
A lot of the students have lost family members.
They haven't been able to grieve properly, and they haven't had any grief counseling.
BELL: What mental health issues are you seeing students struggle with this year and is it the same as last year or are new issues becoming more common?
PORTER: A lot of kids are struggling with how to stay organized, making classes, how to balance work life, being introduced back into having friends and socializing with a mask on in the school.
Some kids have struggled over Covid with substance issues.
You know, smoking, vaping, drinking, things like that.
And parents have contacted me to sort of give resources and help those kids.
BELL: What do you think students need most right now to improve their mental health?
PORTER: One of my favorite things is people need to be held, heard and understood.
So, a lot of times we need to ask young people like yourself, what do you need?
How are you doing?
How does that feel and not be afraid of what the answers is because sometimes you guys can say some interesting things to us.
And as an adult, my job is not to judge you in mental health is to hear you and to understand what's going on and allow you to say it.
And express yourself and know that you're OK. Because of the-the internet, everybody's already diagnosed themselves, so sometimes I have to kind of stray them away from that and just focus on-on yourself and what's happening with you.
If you're anxious about this, let's figure out a solution focused therapy.
So, what's the problem that we can handle right now?
Can't handle what will happen in five months, right?
Let's get you focused on let's get back to class.
I have a test.
OK, let's breathe.
Let's see if we can get you back 30 minutes into that, and we're going to do one thing at a time.
So, it's teaching them how to be present.
BELL: So, I'm a senior.
What advice would you give seniors that are getting ready to leave high school but miss such a critical part in their social development due to the pandemic?
PORTER: Involve yourself in clubs.
Introduce yourself to more people.
Less social media.
Sorry, but more face-to-face engagements as possible.
Because when you go to college, there is going to be a lot of interaction with new people, and you want to feel confident about that.
BELL: If you could give one piece of advice to schools around the country to help their students with mental health, what would it be?
PORTER: Mental health therapists in the building licensed mental health therapists, knowledgeable people that can provide resources in and out of school.
Able to train the staff and the importance of mental health.
And understand that this is something that's not going away, that's something that we need to continue on for years to come.
PURSER: Dear Middle School, Shannon, there are so many things I wish I could tell you.
I wish you could see where we are now, all the things we've accomplished and how we've grown.
I know right now you're very worried about what other people think of you and you don't understand why you feel so alone and out of place.
I know you feel very afraid a lot of the time, but in reality, you're not alone.
You will learn that many people feel the same way you do.
There are names for a lot of those feelings.
Maybe the words depression and anxiety feel scary to you, and that's OK.
When you're ready, there are resources available, and there are so many people in your life who love you and want to help.
You just have to be brave enough to ask.
More than anything else, I want you to love yourself the way that I love you.
Things might feel overwhelming and intense right now, but you will make it through.
JONES: With students back in person, the country has seen an increase again in school shootings.
The most recent one was in Oxford, Michigan.
We checked in with students in the surrounding area to see how they're doing.
And then student reporter Micah Martin talks to a school safety expert to find out how to prevent future tragedies.
DHUE: It felt really, really close to home, and it was happening at the exact same time, like at a time where I'm laughing and hanging out with my friends, somebody is hiding in terror for their lives.
RINGSTAD: It's really scary, especially since the shooting.
Seeing all of the other threats to other schools nearby coming out.
BERNO: It's on everyone's same mind, you know, like the school spirits, like very low.
WILLIAMS: One question I would like to be answered is what pushes a person to a point to do something like that?
PAPPAS: It's not just the fact alone that it happened, it's the fact that it's not the only time it's happened.
Like, there's been too many times where people felt the need to go out and take other people's lives like that.
TUCKER: I highly suggest that you check up on your friends.
DHUE: Just love each other, love each other, love each other, treat people better, treat your family better, be better.
Pay more attention to how people are doing.
Take mental health seriously.
MARTIN: Hi, my name is Micah Martin, and I'm a senior at the F.V.
Pankow Center in Clinton Township, Michigan.
And I'm really excited to talk to you, Dr. Langman.
What do you think schools can do to prevent shootings or what signs can students like look for?
LANGMAN: OK, well, the most important thing that schools can do is to implement what's called a threat assessment system.
And what this means is that there are people on the school staff who are trained to investigate safety concerns that are brought to their attention.
To make that work.
everyone in the school community, including not only the staff but the students and parents as well, should be educated into the warning signs so they know what to report to the threat assessment team.
MARTIN: How do you think we should take care of our mental health during this time and hopefully feel safe again?
LANGMAN: You know, unfortunately, the world can be a dangerous place, so there's no guarantee.
We can't tell children nothing's going to happen.
The best we can do is reassure them that school shootings, despite what we see in the media, they remain very rare events.
That most schools are safe, but they can also feel safe by knowing what the system is in terms of how to report someone.
Probably the most important one is some sort of anonymous tip line, whether that's a phone number or a number of students can text.
A button on the school's website, some way to make it as easy as possible for students to come forward anonymously and share what they know.
MARTIN: Thank you so much, Dr. Langman, for speaking with me today and giving me and some of my fellow teens out there some insight on what's been going on and showing things from another perspective.
I really, really appreciate having you with us.
BOTH: Dear middle schooler... NORDLINGER: Lola.
NORDLINGER: As your middle school year begin, well, you know, social media is already evolving into something all consuming... LEWIS: It makes you pick yourself apart the way you look, act, talk and think.
NORDLINGER: And unfortunately, you're already learning to analyze every photo you take of yourself to scrutinize your flaws.
Find fault in the way you smile and the way you pose.
You constantly ask yourself and your friends, "Is this weird to post" and hope their answer eases your stress.
LEWIS: The stress of posting a picture, a concept that 20 years ago was gibberish, now consumes your thoughts and has way too much control over your self-esteem.
NORDLINGER: Your mom doesn't understand why you're in a bad mood because you didn't think you look pretty enough.
NORDLINGER: Or why you were sad after the boy you like didn't like the picture you posted?
She can't understand, and you can't get out of the horrid headspace that the algorithm of social media has trapped you into.
LEWIS: And it's not your fault.
The algorithm was crafted to make you spend more time on apps by predicting what you want to see and giving you more of it, even if it makes you feel left out or not good enough.
NORDLINGER: You and your friends are victims of this algorithm.
That's a terrible cycle, a time sucking habit that causes a flood of insecurity and self-doubt.
Looking back, the way you feel isn't crazy.
LEWIS: So many other girls all over the world are feeling the exact same way.
LEWIS: They experienced the same defeat, when they don't like the way they look in a picture for the same disappointment when they don't get enough likes.
NORDLINGER: And they too feel the wrath of the algorithm telling them they are not good enough.
LEWIS: Now I'm a senior in high school, and although I'm not perfect, I know I'm more than just a picture.
NORDLINGER: The most important things in my life no longer include the number of likes I get or the immense amount of stress I felt when my smile was a little too crooked in one post.
LEWIS: I promise everyone is so focused and worried about their own insecurities that they don't even notice yours.
NORDLINGER: I've learned that it is unfair to judge myself based off of one still picture.
LEWIS: As you get older, you will learn to separate real life from what's online.
NORDLINGER: You will learn that the posting in comparison never stops.
But you can take control of the narrative.
LEWIS: As my high school years have progressed, I've become a journalist and learned to take a critical look at social media and how it affects me and the people I love.
NORDLINGER: I want to tell you it will all be OK. Nobody else can be Lola Nordlinger, and you can't be anyone else.
LEWIS: So, fight to be yourself.
Don't edit your life.
Embrace it with love... NORDLINGER: Lola.
NAWAZ: What awesome messages, what amazing stories, what incredible journalism, what an amazing, amazing show we are still here, live with you guys and I'm still here with my co-hosts, Kate and Terry.
Welcome back to both of you.
But we're also joined by Makayla Lambert from Rouse High School.
She goes by Mack and his piece you saw about the school board diaries.
So, Mack, you've probably inspired a lot more people to actually look up when their school board meetings are and maybe show up and speak up if they want to.
But what else?
What else have you been noticing from the show?
What else kind of resonated with you from some of the stories you saw?
LAMBERT: Well, I think this era has definitely exposed my generation to a lot of things we didn't expect to live through in our lifetime.
And something I've discovered is that my greatest weapon during times like this is my voice and I don't have to sit back and let people with harmful perspectives dictate how I learn and what I learn.
And we can all spread awareness and try to tone down those misconceptions and fears that are just causing us to go backwards.
NAWAZ: Your greatest weapon is your voice, I love that so much.
Listen, folks who are watching are also jumping in the chats.
I want to bring in a couple of those questions now and see what you guys think about that.
There's a question from Harry Break.
Terry, I'll put this question to you first.
Harry wants to know what advice do you have for teachers to help students with what they're going through?
Terry, what would you say?
JONES: I would just say for the teachers just to try and hear out your students and understand that schoolwork isn't the only thing that they're doing and that, you know, they also have things that go on in their personal lives.
Try to create creative spaces for your students so they can really express themselves and continue to use their voice.
NAWAZ: That's a great answer.
Kate, what about you?
What would you want your teachers to understand that they can do to better help support their students?
NAKAMURA: Yeah, I definitely agree with Terry, you know, hearing out your students and what they're going through and what they might need help with.
Something that one of my teachers have done is to provide a brain break, you know, from a day of, you know, back-to-back classes and maybe even extracurriculars after school, you know, he would pose instead of taking attendance, like just saying the name and then say, I'm here asking a question, you know, like, what's your favorite food or what's your favorite drink?
What was your favorite part about this weekend?
And personally, that has provided me such like an amazing break from a day that seems so hectic.
NAWAZ: I think we could all use a brain break every now and again.
Well, how about one more question from the chat and thank you to everyone out there for joining in the conversation.
This one comes to us from Melody Phenix.
Melody wants to know; how do you think this project is helping you to prepare for the future?
Mack, why don't you kick us off?
LAMBERT: It's been very liberating to spread awareness about stuff that I've always had in the back of my head and stuff that I believe in, and I'm fighting for what's right, and I think this is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life, and I've found a confidence in my voice.
NAWAZ: Kate, what about you?
How do you think this project is helping you prepare for your future?
NAKAMURA: I want to go into journalism and something similar to this, so getting to work with Terry and all the amazing people at SRL has been really insightful and also hearing the perspectives from other students.
And, you know, hearing the advice from the professionals in this special.
You know, it's something that I'll take with me, definitely for the rest of my life.
NAWAZ: I had to say it makes me so happy to hear when people will say they want to go into journalism, but also, you're already in it, you're already doing it, you're already a journalist.
So, keep that in mind too.
Terry, what about you?
How, how do you think working on this, shaping these conversations, has helped you to prepare for your future?
JONES: I also want to go into journalism and just communicating with-with everyone on this project was just, it was something really special because I also, you know, it really helped me to find my voice even more.
NAWAZ: I feel like I could talk to you guys for another hour, but I want to put one last question to each of you before I let you go because we just saw some incredible student journalism.
And, I think, like you guys have been saying, you know, a lot of times people talk about you and about the things that matter to you, but we don't hear from students themselves, and that's why tonight has been so special and so important.
So, I guess I just want to ask each of you, you know, why do you think that student stories like the ones we just heard and so many that have yet to be told?
Why do you think they're so important to you and to your peers?
And also, what can be done to make sure that more of the world gets to see them?
Terry, why don't you start off?
JONES: Student stories are so important because, again, it's about students and the youth being able to use their voice and share their ideas and thoughts on perspectives that, and issues that a lot of times young people may not talk about.
NAWAZ: Kate, what about you?
Why are these stories so important and how do we make sure more people see more of them?
NAKAMURA: They're our stories.
They're told from our perspective, and they're on things that really matter to us and that we feel very strongly about.
NAWAZ: Mack, finally to you, you've already said you think that working on this project has helped you to find your voice.
How do you want to use that voice?
Why are these stories so important?
LAMBERT: I think it's just really important to expand your knowledge and learn about other people's experiences and really gain a deeper understanding of the struggles that you may not go through, but other people do.
And it's also giving comfort to yourself that you're not going through this alone.
We all collectively, as a generation, are going through the same thing, and it's really uplifting to know that you're not doing this alone.
NAWAZ: I couldn't agree more with everything you guys are saying.
Look, I myself am a huge believer in the power of good journalism to do exactly what you guys have mentioned to, to build understanding, to build community, to make people think critically about really important and difficult topics, and also to bring about change.
And you guys are on the forefront of that.
You are leading that, and you are showing all of us just how true that is.
So, thank you.
Thank you to Terry and Kate, my wonderful co-hosts, for joining us tonight.
Thank you also to our guests, Mikayla, Mack, for joining us for this final piece of the show and also to all of the student producers and journalists and everyone who contributed to this program.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for being a part of it.
From all of us here at the Student Reporting Labs and at the PBS NewsHour.
Please be well.
And thanks again for being with us tonight.
JONES: This is the SRL happy dance.
NAKAMURA: Another helicopter.
JONES: But back to... NAKAMURA: Where we need to check the thing again and again.
JONES: Yes, we can do it.
My co-host is in Hawaii and I'm in Alabama, NAKAMURA: Being able to communicate like this has made me feel so connected.
I feel like Terry's in the next room.
And you guys are in the room next to me, so close the way that we're communicating and connecting.
JONES: Yes, we did it.
We did it.