By Lily O’Shea Becker Kansas Reflector
LAWRENCE — Marisa Wise thinks young voices deserve to be heard because, although they can’t vote, they have “the entire internet at their fingertips,” and she uses it to research and stay informed .
Wise, a 15-year-old from Gardner, was among more than 80 high school students who signed up this week for the Jayhawk Media Workshop or Native Storytelling Workshop at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. The workshops provided courses focused on Indigenous storytelling, writing and editing, design, photojournalism, leading a news crew, and more.
Wise participated in the design class and is responsible for designing his school’s yearbook team. She said this week reinforced her desire to get into journalism.
“Young journalists are important because they are the next generation of journalists, and we need to groom and prepare them for the world that is growing and changing every moment,” Wise said.
Not all of the students who participated are considering a career in journalism.
Ashanti Riccardo, a 17-year-old from Lawrence who practiced photography this week, plans to join the Air Force and would like to incorporate her love for photography if she enlists.
Turner Brown, a 16-year-old from Fort Scott who moved to Gardner within the past five years, said he wanted to become a radiation oncologist. He is currently a financial editor for The Blazer, the Gardner-Edgerton High School newspaper, and designs and writes.
“I have many friends who have had cancer. My great-grandmother died of cancer. My family has a long history of cancer,” Brown said. “So (I plan) to work with cancer patients to help bring some hope.”
While these Kansas high schoolers have different futures, the eight students interviewed for this story all plan to register to vote.
“I will actually be able to vote in the next presidential election, because then I will be 18,” said Brady Knutson, a 15-year-old from Olathe who has been doing photojournalism this week. “I think voting is obviously super, super important. It’s like one of the strongest ways to really represent your values on a massive scale.
Hanna Reed, a 17-year-old from Eureka who wants to pursue a career in advertising, considers herself a strong advocate for the youth vote. She said she encouraged people to register to vote by making phone calls.
Hayden Houts, a 17-year-old from Lawrence who dabbled in multimedia this week and is considering a career in broadcast journalism, said being able to vote and make a difference would be a “tremendous achievement in (his) life”.
Brown and Ethan Hunting, a 17-year-old editor of The Blazer, said voting was their American duty.
Several students stressed the importance of local elections.
“I think it’s very important to stay involved in politics because you should be able to voice your opinion,” Hunting said. “It’s important to make sure you have an impact in your community that you think can best benefit.”
Brown said he covered several stories regarding school districts and school boards for his school newspaper.
“I believe small elections are much more important than what people usually see,” he said. “I see a lot of these people working at the school board, you know, and I don’t agree with a lot of their positions.”
Kaila Burnside, a 15-year-old entering her second year at Gardner whose passion is design, said she knew she would be living in Kansas for at least the next four years.
“If I want to get involved around the world, I have to start where I’m from, where I am right now,” Burnside said. “And if you can’t see the policies you want to change on a small scale, it can’t be on a national scale. That’s just not how it works.
Statewide, some students want Kansas politicians to focus more on abortion laws, school funding, the foster care system and gun laws.
“No offense to the older generation, but there are certain things that people in power and in government have defined that need to be changed, such as gun laws. … I don’t want to have to wake up and worry, like, am I going to live the next day? says Ricardo.
Houts said mass shootings have become a normal part of life.
“I’m really worried this will happen to Lawrence soon,” he said. “It could happen at my school, and I don’t want to be the next person, or my friends to be the next people to die.”
Riccardo said her vote was important because she wanted to make sure there was someone in power who wanted to help her community.
Another value on which the students interviewed agreed is that journalism is crucial for democracy and that young journalists bring an important dynamic to it.
Knutson said that although he was a journalist in high school, he likes to associate his work with the “big picture”. He stressed the importance of reporting not just the news people want to hear, but also the news people need to hear. Knutson said he learned from Native Storytelling panelists how important it is to listen to others, and he didn’t realize how underrepresented Native media was.
“Young journalists are important to me because we are truly the voices of the future,” Reed said.