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SRL Student Academy

My name is Savanna Atstupenas, I am 17 and I am an aspiring journalist. I am in my junior year of high school and have completely changed since my freshman year and I owe it all to journalism. My teacher, Doreen Picozzi, has been my mentor since ninth grade. She has always pushed me to stick my neck out, and face hardship or difficult things to gain the experience I can. When the opportunity arose to apply for Student Reporting Labs’ (SRL) annual summer academy at the Walter Cronkite School at Arizona State University, I instantly was intrigued and wanted to apply. The application process was almost enough to make me want to run away, but I did not, and I am so thankful that I decided to complete the application. 

On day one of the SRL programs, they immediately put us to work. After a brief introduction, we jumped into meeting our groups in person for the first time. We started on a mini project, to engage in a team bonding exercise and get us ready for the bigger project. My team seemed to get along reasonably well for a group that had never met in person before. Even when the whole group of fellows was together we seemed to get along well, though few of us had ever met and many had different interests.

We were given one day to film, and one and a half days to edit a newsworthy article. I had worked on a deadline before but never under such intense circumstances. Everybody needed to work together coherently, but much like most teenagers, we did not always see eye to eye or feel like our needs and wants were being met. We worked hard to overcome the issues, though some went unresolved for the whole trip. More involvement from the team leaders may have ended the conflicts that arose.

Our story, “Stepping Up” which is available to watch on, revolved around a Latina dance group that has opened up opportunities to young adults that otherwise would not have been able to afford dance classes. The interviews we held were incredibly powerful and moving. I learned that it is best to sometimes poke at things people say to see if they are willing to give you more every time you question them. This is important because a video is only as good as the people in it. The people who agreed to appear in our video deserve so much credit, especially the dance students we featured.  Though it was the first time they had ever been interviewed on camera, they had no fear of showing their emotion and sharing part of their story with people they did not know.

Our story was featured on public television’s national evening news, PBS NewsHour on August 17. It was an incredible moment for me, as it was for all members of our news team. Our story was engaging, relevant, and emotionally moving. At the same time, it serves as a testament to the power of collaboration and teamwork in journalism.  We learned how to blend and coordinate our various skills, interests, and talents while celebrating the joy and success of another important collaboration. This one is in the form of the Latin American Folk Dance where students learn humility, generosity, and gratitude. In many ways, those of us in the SRL Summer Academy learned the same lessons.

The program gave me a chance to expand myself as a journalist but even more so than that, I gained ever-lasting friends. They opened my eyes to how people see the world differently. Everybody has their own story and mixing with students from all over the country gave me a chance to hear their stories. Suddenly California did not seem too far away, NYC did not feel like a distant dream, Arizona was not some urban territory, and suddenly all the states took on new meanings. I no longer felt like Rhode Island was the end-all-be-all because I saw that students all over the place had similar stories and similar mindsets to me. I am beyond proud of the story my team and I completed but I am ecstatic knowing that I made friends that will last a lifetime.

The program was incredible and I am so happy that I was accepted into it, to be recognized for my work and to be given a chance to make my voice heard was incredible. I am thankful for the friends I made, the late nights, and the early mornings. For my roommate who had to deal with my awful sleep schedule, and me constantly forgetting my key to the dorm. Thank you SRL for giving me a chance to do what I love most!

Interested in experiencing a fully-immersive, week-long student workshop in the field of journalism? The SRL Student Academy is taking place in Boston this year from June 21-29, and Rhode Island rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors are invited to apply. All costs are covered for accepted students. Use these guidelines to apply by March 12. 


Savanna Atstupenas (She/Her)

11th Grade Journalist

Instagram: @S_jolie22