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Youth Media In Tompkins County Cultivates Student Creativity And Activism


Ithaca High School is home to student Newspaper The Tattler.

In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools across Tompkins County and left students confused and scared for what would happen next.

Sophie Isacks is a 9th grader at Charles O. Dickerson High School and student editor of the Trumansburg Troubadour, a student newsletter by grades 4 – 8 through the Trumansburg Education Foundation. She says remote learning was a difficult adjustment.

“It was confusing at first, and every class was different … there was also the newness of the pandemic, which made it very hard to be anything but nervous about the state of the world,” Isacks said.

The Trumansburg Troubadour is ran through the Trumansburg Education Foundation and works with students in grades 4-8.

Katie Lin, an 11th grader at Ithaca High School and News Editor of The Tattler, IHS’s students newspaper agrees. Working at the paper gave her a sense of purpose.

“There was a time when work was optional and you were just kind of floating … but for The Tattler, it was nice to have specific deadlines,” Lin said. “We are all there voluntarily so it’s a bonding, ‘we’ll get through this’ kind of thing.”

Looking to the bright side

Genna Knight, Trumansburg parent and advisor for the Troubadour, sees that the students are ready for something new.

“We’re collecting ideas for the spring and a lot of students say, ‘Do I have to write about COVID-19?’ ‘Do I have to write about school?’ They’re talking about travel plans or what grows in spring,” said Knight. “They’re ready to tell a different story now.”

– Genna Knight, Trumansburg parent and advisor for the Troubadour

This positive perspective is mirrored at The Tattler.

“I saw an increase in more positive articles. If you look at late 2020 on, more people had ideas like “positive news 2020” or “21 positive things happening this year. So I think it [the pandemic] taught us to look on the bright side,” said Katie.

Both papers are published in print and digital, and each of them have taken advantage of remote production to reach wider audiences.

A creative place to process uncertain times

Jinho Park, an 11th grader at Ithaca High School and opinion editor at The Tattler sees the newspaper as a place of reflection for his peers.

“We’ve definitely had a lot of literary articles that touch upon the emotional solitude that a lot of students feel being alone in the pandemic,” said Park.

Knight says that the Troubadour gives students a creative outlet to better understand their experiences at home and in school.

“This is a way to have kids stop and actually reflect and think ‘wow, this is totally different from what it was last year and who knows if it will be the same [soon],” said Knight.

The importance of youth voices

The past year has deeply impacted young students and broadened the scope of youth activism. Gen-Z has been encouraged to see that they have a key role as an agent of change in the world around them. 

Source: On the Cusp of Adulthood and Facing an Uncertain Future: What We Know About Gen Z So Far / PEW RESEARCH CENTER. Graphic by Carly Swanson.

This has affirmed Park’s beliefs in the importance of having a student newspaper.

“There are issues that are really important to students that are not maybe important to the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal,” Park said. “The newspaper serves a vital role as conductor that allows the students involved with The Tattler to express themselves in a lot of ways.”

When students share their voice, it helps raise consciousness on youth centered issues in their communities. For many students like Isacks, it also enhances their own self awareness.  

“This will sound really cheesy, but I think writing can be a lifeline for a lot of people, and it’s definitely been that way for me. Writing for The Troubadour and my own personal writing have both helped me stay grounded in reality through a really difficult time,” said Isacks. 


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