Saira Pannu and Fiona Shuldiner, Grade 10, Staff Writers
Over the course of the pandemic, the creation and membership of youth organizations have dramatically increased. High school students, with this newfound free time, are taking an active role in tackling important social issues and helping their communities. We spoke to High School of American Studies students Isabel Frei [‘23], Dahlia Roe [‘23], and Charlotte Hampton [‘22], who have founded New York City High School Democrats Queens, Reach NYC Tutoring, and Teens for Press Freedom, respectively.
Question: Tell us about yourself and the organization you started.
Isabel Frei: Hi! My name is Isabel Frei. I'm a sophomore and I started a chapter of the New York High School Democrats in Queens. Our goal is to keep people informed and get people politically engaged, even though all of us are in high school and are too young to vote.
Dahlia Roe: Hi, my name is Dahlia Roe and I am a sophomore at HSAS. My organization is a free tutoring program to underserved families in New York for children in second through fifth grade over Zoom.
Charlotte Hampton: Hi! My name is Charlotte Hampton. I’m 16 years old and I’m a junior at the High School of American Studies at Lehman College. The organization that I started is Teens for Press Freedom. It’s an international youth organization that facilitates discussion among teenagers for press freedom and lobbies for the Journalist Protection Act, which was introduced in Congress in 2019, and would enact higher criminal offenses for attacking a journalist.
Q: What motivated you to start the organization/get involved?
Frei: I was inspired by the creation of the NYHSD Manhattan branch, started by other kids in our school. I wanted to find a way to get involved as well. Also, during this historic moment in politics, I thought it was an important time to try to get myself and other teens more politically involved.
Roe: I was motivated to start this organization because we had a lot of free time during the pandemic and I knew that this could be a really helpful program, especially because of all the struggles that families were facing. I had originally created this organization in middle school but have restarted it in these last few months. Also, I think that my mentor from my old school Jennifer Levin has been very helpful in this process, which has made it much easier for me to set up this entire thing.
Hampton: The Penn-America summer intensive about starting an advocacy campaign gave me a basic understanding of how to start an advocacy campaign. This is a topic that I am very interested in, and I think the bill that our group is trying to lobby for is something very important, and we should be trying to spread awareness for it. In general, [the] free press is something I have always been interested in. There are so many kids who are very passionate about this issue, but there are not that many outlets for it.
Q: How has it been going/have you met your goal?
Frei: I think it's been going really well. We've had high membership engagement, and have a consistent attendance every month. We have meetings with guest speakers and discussions with good participation about different democratic issues. We also posted information on our Instagram about Weekly News in the state and the country to try and make sure we keep people informed, even if they can't come to all the meetings. Overall, my group’s goal is to continue to expand the club, and hopefully in 2021 have larger attendance.
Roe: It’s been going really well! We currently have twenty people working, and tutor around fifteen families at the moment. Our main priority right now is trying to expand the organization but eventually, we want to turn this into a non-profit.
Hampton: I started this group with another HSAS student in late August, and we currently have twenty-five members that come from all over the country, and even some international students. I think right now we are focused on getting new members and gaining legitimacy, establishing a system. Then, we are going to focus on really making change and lobbying for the Journalist Protection Act.
Q: How can we get involved?
Frei: Our Instagram is @nyhsdqueenschapter and we make up Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, and Rego Park. Even if you don't live in these areas you can still be a member if you don't have a local chapter. We have a Google Classroom for members as well that is on our Instagram page. And even if you aren't a member, you can come to meetings, especially if you're interested in hearing the guest speaker.
Roe: To get involved either email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Hampton: To get involved, you can fill out the Linktree in the Instagram bio of @teensforpressfreedom, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. There are many different levels in which you can get involved if you are interested!
Now more than ever, it is clear that HSAS students are getting involved in helping their communities. Whether through starting your own organizations or joining pre-existing ones, we hope you will get involved as well. The pandemic has proven to be a difficult time, but many students are taking matters into their own hands to help in any way possible.