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Classroom Voices

Student Journalism Challenge winner: Isabella Caruso

March 1, 2023


Student Journalism Challenge winner Isabella Caruso

Politicians, school boards, parents and other adults have a lot to say about education in America. But what about students?

The 2022 Student Journalism Challenge from PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs and XQ asked students to report on education stories where they live.

Entries from 36 states were evaluated by professional journalists, and the winning stories in the 2022 Student Journalism Challenge tell stories of student life, challenges and solutions in school communities and answer the question: what’s important to students across the country?

Isabella Caruso is a senior at Pelham Memorial High School Village in Pelham, New York, and is one of two winners in the print category of the Student Journalism Challenge. For her winning entry, Caruso covered a PTA meeting held after swastika graffiti was discovered in a stairwell in her school. She tells us:

Members from various PTAs across the school district come together at a board of education meeting to speak directly to the board [of] trustees demanding more effort [be] put into DEI policy and against racial discrimination. These speakers and community members attended the meeting that recently followed an act of hate speech found at the high school. I believe this piece was especially vital to cover as it emphasizes the voice that community members felt the need to share, as acts of racial violence seem to be only increasing even in a small town such as Pelham.

Colonial, PMHS PTA leaders call on school board to do more to fight hate and bias after swastika found at high school

Isabella Caruso

PTA leaders from Colonial Elementary School and Pelham Memorial High School called on the board of education to do more to fight hate and bias in the schools during Tuesday’s board meeting, following the Oct. 24, 2022 discovery of a swastika in a PMHS stairwell.

“I stand here tonight to ask that you take decisive action to put an end to the racism, hate and bias that students are experiencing in our schools,” said Lisa Schaeffer, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) for the Colonial PTA, who spoke along with other parents from the school.

While the Colonial representatives acknowledged the district’s actions after the most recent incident of antisemitism followed protocol, they said they found the familiarity of the email sent out uncomfortable. “In fact, the Colonial PTA was here addressing the board exactly one year ago because of a different act of racism found on school property, asking that the district take decisive action,” said Schaeffer. “We refuse to accept this as the new normal.”

Schaeffer called on the board to prioritize the work of implementing its DEI policy and engage a DEI professional to “ensure that DEI is front and center in each building.” The Colonial PTA officials stressed the urgent need to hire a DEI coordinator, a position that is included in the budget.

“Beyond this, many of our newly elected board members ran on a platform of accountability, communication and transparency,” said Schaeffer. “We ask that the board deliver on those commitments, not just around testing and academic achievement, but on the implementation of the district’s DEI policy, and the benchmarking of progress made against its goals.”

Marjut Herzog, president of the PMHS PTA and a member of the Pelham Jewish Center, also spoke about the latest incident of swastikas being found on school property. “When something gets repeated, it is no longer a mistake, it’s a behavior,” said Herzog. She said the PTA will support teachers and the district by ensuring the resources are provided for education on the Holocaust, as well as learning skills such as allyship and the harm of hate speech.

(In September 2019, swastikas were drawn in a Pelham Middle School boys bathroom and the boys locker room.)

Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ said once the district staff was notified about the swastika found in the high school, an email was sent out to parents to ensure that all members of the district were informed. She said she also met with Rabbi Benjamin Resnick from the Pelham Jewish Center to make sure that the students at his congregation were supported.

None of the seven school board members responded to the PTA statements. It’s been the board’s unwritten policy since 2019 to not reply to comments or questions from the public.

Read, watch, and listen to stories of other Student Journalism Challenge winners here.

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