The below reflection was written by Sophia Salazar, who served as a Commonwealth Corps Youth Program Associate for Teens in Print during the 2020-21 school year. We’re incredibly grateful to Sophia for her expertise, enthusiasm, and support over the last year.

headshot of sophia salazar

How do you teach about fake news when false information has been amplified by people in positions of power? How do you teach about limitations to the first amendment when hate speech is touted by elected officials, and the president of the United States is free to use his words to incite a violent insurrection on Capitol Hill and get away with it? How do you inspire young people to confront these topics with humanity, and encourage them to persevere in the midst of a global pandemic through screens? 

As a Commonwealth Corps service member, my encounters with these tough questions will only last through the length of my service. But for career educators, this moment in time will have a seismic effect on the education landscape for years to come. 

Serving in the nonprofit education sector, especially right now as teachers and students have transitioned to online learning with little technological infrastructure to precede the change, has meant confronting an uphill battle each and every day. Being a part of the Teens in Print staff, who has worked tirelessly to convert its landmark afterschool program to a digital safe-haven while also reaching students in their online classrooms, has meant helping push that fight forward. However, the youth we serve have made the challenges worthwhile. In turn, their efforts have been inspiring to me to keep going and do my best to show up for them through my role at Teens in Print and WriteBoston.

Turning to youth voice first is a lesson I will take with me wherever I go.

My primary tasks as a Corps member have involved facilitating in-class partnerships and workshops with virtual classrooms and youth-serving after school programs across the Greater Boston area. Topics I’ve facilitated include college application writing, opinion and advocacy letter writing, and single workshops regarding fake news and understanding the first amendment. I’ve had the privilege of meeting high school students from Boston and beyond, and gotten to know their stories, what they care about, and what they want to see changed in the world. 

I was born at the cusp of Generation Z, so to listen to the pulse of this generation in their Zoom classrooms has been like a window into the future. The diverse landscape of youth I’ve interacted with, from exam school students to newly arrived immigrants, have shown me that Generation Z (or “Zoomers”) are ferocious, resilient, and inspired. While I am not certain I will land in a career path in K-12 education, what I’ve learned from youth as a service member is that the world has and will continue to shift, and younger generations will lead. Turning to youth voice first is a lesson I will take with me wherever I go.   

Starting a service position online proved to be more challenging than I’d expected it to be, which makes me wonder how much I’d be able to handle online school if I were a teenager right now. Not being able to see or meet new coworkers in person, and feeling chronically awkward over Zoom felt like a hurdle at first. In the days before a global pandemic, I got to know others through interacting with them in person. I’ve missed the days of getting to know someone over a coffee, or picking up their favorite snack on the way back from a lunch break. 

However, as time went on, getting to know others came in different ways. It required being more vocal, asking questions more directly, using my words. As a natural introvert, I still struggle with this. But this year has taught me how important using your voice really is– whether it’s to speak up against an injustice, encourage others, or to quiet your own to allow others to speak up for themselves. I’m still learning how to wield my voice, but I’ve found more of it through this service year.