The pandemic has upended the lives of just about everyone, including high school students. But despite a lot of talk about remote versus in-person school, mask mandates and the rest, the perspectives of young people themselves often go unheard.
In the recent PBS NewsHour special, “Our New Normal: How Teens Are Redefining School Life,” the voices of students and student journalists took center stage.
Makayla Lambert is a senior at Rouse High School in Leander, Texas, and student journalist. She joined the Texas Standard to talk about how the school year is going for students, and and her work on PBS NewsHour special. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how this school year has been going for you.
Makayla Lambert: I live in Austin, Texas, and recently the school year has been a very tough transition from what it used to be. It’s harder to keep up, especially with the pandemic, and everything, just not feeling the same. And it really does feel like a loss for me. I don’t feel like I’ve gotten the full high school experience.
I have to ask you about how much thought you’ve given to the fact that It’s not, as you were saying, just the pandemic. There have been issues of racial justice and equity reform, which have been front and center and trans student rights. Right now, there’s this big conversation in Texas around which kinds of books dealing with race and topics related to LGBTQ subjects should be in the school library. Tell us a little bit more about what it’s like to be a student right now.
It’s hard, and it really makes me afraid that all this stuff is starting to resurface and starting to become a debate again. I don’t think that equity should be a very hot topic debate, especially inside a school board. It was sitting there and listening to people speak on my behalf about that stuff was really hard. And being a student during this time it made me feel like I didn’t have that much of a voice to speak out against it.
Your story for the PBS NewsHour special focuses on a Leander ISD school board meeting – obviously not often heavily attended by students. What got you interested in attending this session and had you been to one before
I had never been to one before, and I had no interest in doing it. One of the reasons I went was because of the pandemic, I heard that school boards were starting to get more attention. So when I went, the topic was equity. And going there, I realized that they were talking about things that really do affect students. And it blew my mind that I had no idea that I could go up and talk and put my voice out there. So it was really an enlightening experience, and it was good to know that I do have some type of way to help myself in my district.
Don’t drop any spoilers here, but what was the overall result of what happened?
So after that, they passed the equity curriculum. I think this was really a matter of the loudest voices trying to override what was happening. And it was very worth it. I think that having equity inside the classrooms was a big move, especially on Leander’s part, with like such a big amount of people who were against it.
What do you hope people take away from watching your report?
I hope people can find that they have a voice and that they can go and talk about things that really affect them to the school board. But that they don’t have to sit and let people who don’t understand their experiences, who aren’t the same as them, dictate what happens inside of classrooms and how classrooms are performed.
Did watching this meeting lead to any other things that interested you – that you thought, well, that affects my life as a student every day?
It really opened my eyes to what was happening with the COVID-19 protocols and how that was going on and, with racial inequality. This was a thing that was still a problem and is ongoing, especially in my district. Despite how many people are against it. But I’m thankful for the experience